HP Envy Spectre and NFC– features missing in action

[continued from part I]

Not supporting card emulation mode in a laptop is understandable, given the absence of secure element and unwieldy form-factor. While it is possible to host-terminated card emulation without special purpose hardware, where traffic from the reader is routed to a garden-variety application running on Windows and emulating an ISO7816 card,  it’s difficult to imagine a practical use case for this. It’s one thing wielding a smart-phone against a point-of-sale terminal for mobile payments. It’s a completely different, unwieldy experience to recreate the same scenario using a 4-pound 14″ laptop where the antenna is located under the palm-rest.

More puzzling is lack of reader/writer mode. Long before NFC was a gee-whiz concept in consumer hardware, it was a standard feature in contactless smartcards used for high-security enterprise scenarios such as login, VPN and encryption. For example the US government PIV standard defines a subset of functionality accessible over NFC. Reader/writer mode exposed as PC/SC driver is a natural choice for that scenario, exposing PN533 as always present smart-card reader. As things stand, lack of reader mode rules out using an Android phone as smart-card replacement.

As for P2P mode, it can be flaky. This blogger was able to share links from the phone, using the standard Android beam functionality but the stack seems to get “wedged:” it will stop triggering Beam after a few attempts, or the Beam ritual will take place on Android but nothing happens on the laptop side.  Other reviewers noted they had problems with getting the feature working consistently; HP Touch to Share app for Android has more 1-star reviews than 5-star ones. Part of the challenge is that early versions instructed users to use that app for sharing links. But recent vintage  Android permits existing apps to share content via Beam. For example Chrome is designed to share link to the current web page, obviating the need for a special purpose application to transfer links. A recent update to the Windows side clarifies this, using a drop-down to toggle between the 2.3.X Gingerbread (still accounting for over 50% of devices) and more recent vintage 4.X phones:


Still the transfer works one way only– no way to send a link from the PC to the phone, a la Chrome to Phone— and it is limited to URLs, not contacts or other NDEF formats that Beam supports in principle. P2P is an overkill for such narrowly scoped use case, further restricting the target audience to users with Android NFC devices costing hundreds of dollars, instead of anyone who could get their hands on an NFC tag costing less than a dollar. (HP appears to have reversed course on this, supplying NFC tags with Spectre One.)

Overall one is left with the impression that NFC support in the Envy is scratching the surface. It is optimized for one narrow scenario, which turns out to not be very common and of limited utility, bordering on parlor-trick category. But the underlying hardware is capable of supporting a vast array of enterprise use cases, and while the Spectre is not aimed at that market, it contains hints of the broader potential of integrated NFC hardware.


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