CNet NFC wishlist and status quo

Jessica Dolcourt over at CNet has recently published a wishlist called 6 things I want to do with NFC. Here is quick look at the list and how far existing incarnations of the technology are from getting there:

1. Transfer photos, video and music from any device. Android users might reply with “already there.” Android Beam was first introduced in ICS and later expanded to support larger file transfers by using the initial NFC tap to bootstrap a Bluetooth connection. (Because NFC bandwidth is lower and requires keeping the devices in close contact, Bluetooth or 802.11 wireless are preferable for transmitting large amounts of data.) But the author is asking for more widespread adoption for Beam-style transfer, including on cameras and laptops. As covered in this blog, HP Envy Spectre laptops boast an NFC controller configured in peer-to-peer mode compatible with Android Beam. But the feature can be flaky, which CNet has also noted.

2. Control a car with NFC. The description of this scenario is vague, but can be interpreted as variations on the peer-to-peer transfer capability: transferring contacts, using the car speakers for audio playback or sending an address to the onboard navigation system. (Assuming those will still be around– it’s difficult to justify their price considering driving directions are included for free on Android and iOS now.)

3. Replacing the ATM card. Not to be confused with replacing a credit card— already doable with Google Wallet— this one refers to ATM withdrawals for cash. Chip & PIN cards used in Europe for ATM withdrawals are currently based on contact technology. In principle the same protocol can run over NFC, but a few tweaks would be required to avoid pitfalls of direct translation, such as sending PIN over NFC without encryption. Also depending on the form factor of the NFC device, different user experiences are possible. If the “card” happens to be a full-fledged smartphone there is no need for external PIN entry; that can be handled on the phone itself. As a side-effect that could frustrate certain ATM skimming attacks, which rely on capturing user PIN with a camera or keypad overlay.

4. Help with shopping:

In a supermarket, sporting goods store, or DIY home improvement store, NFC could pop up a mobile site that helps you locate items by aisle, track down a salesperson, and surface coupons or deals.

Perhaps but such location-based services can also be handled based on GPS and indoor mapping technologies. Why require explicit user action at the store– also asking for a roll-out of NFC tags by merchants– if the phone can already determine where the user is and display helpful, contextual information?

5. Check-in for events:

It’d be wonderful to use those details to check yourself into appointments at hospitals, sporting events, concerts, the DMV, and airport kiosks.

Also eminently doable today, considering that many festivals including Outside Lands already use NFC tags for passes. Main challenge with extending this to more sensitive scenarios such as DMV and airport check-in would be the security level achievable with a mobile device only. NFC combined with a secure element could take the phone out of the security equation, and offer high degree of assurance against mobile malware. That said, boarding passes can already be delivered as PDF files in email for display on smart phones, all without the benefit of any specialized hardware. As long as additional checks are present– showing government issued ID and inevitable TSA checkpoints, in the case of transportation– merely starting the process with NFC tap is not necessarily more risky.

6. “Stay on the side of convenience.” Another vague requirement, this appears to be a call for interoperability and avoiding specialized mobile apps for standard functionality such as sharing. This could be a dig at HP for publishing a custom Android application for their version of touch-to-share. In fairness, that was mainly an artifact of supporting Gingerbread, where Android did not have a flexible mechanism for third-party developers to use peer-to-peer mode. Starting with ICS the platform makes it much easier for applications to opt into Beam, and content from built-in apps can be shared in an intuitive manner: for example Chrome will share current URL, Contacts will transfer the contact details and YouTube will send a link to the video.


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