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Payments romance: When Apple met NFC

The yearly Apple keynote wasn't a demonstration of new products. Since its inception it's increasingly become a parade of the firm's utter dominance of the consumer technology market. A stunt of self-publicity focused just as much on its own glory than future potential. And rightly so. I don't care much for self-promotion, but if you've done as much as Apple has to change the way we live, work and play, you've got reason to brag.

Regardless, the Cupertino megacorp isn't infallible and nor is it perfect. Tech-heads around the world counter Apple's superiority with arguments berating its closed ecosystem, its overly simplistic interfaces (hardware and software) and its stubborn unwillingness to push technology standards forward in the name of complete control. Apple doesn't want a slice of the pie, it wants the whole thing.

And the flavour of aforementioned pie? Mobile payments.

Bringing together a few figures reveals the following:

- Global sales of NFC-enabled handsets grew 300% in 2012 (Berg)

- 125m NFC handsets shipped in 2012 (ABI Research)

- 500m NFC handsets in use by 2014 (ABI Research)

And on the contrary:

- NFC transaction values to reach $110bn NOT $180bn as previously predicted, in 2017 (Juniper).

To flesh out the last just a little, Juniper slashed their predictions when it found out that the iPhone 5 wouldn't include NFC.

It's the same story as we close off 2013, a new iPhone released and yet no sign of this (seemingly) pervasive technology. I hate to bear bad news but this NFC-Apple thing just isn't going to happen.

This brings us to a bit of a conundrum. NFC, for me anyway, is firmly rooted in my life. It's in my debit cards, credit cards and my transport cards - but can the platform prosper without the blessing of, arguably, the world's biggest tech firm? And if it doesn't prosper - what's the future of payments without it?

Reaching a critical mass is always a necessity to get any tech off the ground. Google has had a hard time getting NFC to lift off with its Wallet venture. The banks, the issuers and the retailers are banding together to do the same with contactless payments at a number of retailer - but with Apple refusing to budge on NFC - I fear it just won't take off like it could.

The bigger, looming question is about Apple's motives. If it included NFC tech into its line-up, the walled garden could crumble and open up to the likes of Samsung and HTC, rivals who adopted NFC at the earliest possible opportunity. By sharing some of that space with its rivals, Apple shares profits, market share, and worst of all, prestige.

So, where to go from here? Well, there are a few flickers of light at the end of this dismal tunnel of payments despair.

Developments in Bluetooth technology is opening doors for BLE (Bluetooth low energy), which works, superficially, in a similar manner to NFC - could it be utilised for payments? Yes. And it already has. Look at what PayPal is up to with Beacon and Apple with iBeacon to get a sense of how the tech can be used.

And despite my grumblings against Apple's dogged inflexibility - they might be on to something. BLE is affordable, works at a greater range and it already has an enormous compatible market, waiting to be tapped. Most feature phones, (post-2000) are Bluetooth ready. And through the marriage of iBeacon, geolocation and tailored offers - the can of worms for marketing opportunities could just have been opened.

What was that NFC thing we were talking about again?


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