...But, contrary what the NFC-related rumors swirling around Apple would suggest, this app uses QR codes, not NFC. At the company’s 2012 Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) keynote address, the company introduced an updated version of its mobile operating system, iOS 6, which features Passbook, a new mobile wallet app that enables a range of cards, tickets, coupons and other credential types to be stored electronically in a mobile device. Passbook is an app tailor-made for many of the use cases associated with NFC—transportation and event ticketing, loyalty, mobile marketing/couponing and, of course, mobile payment, but leverages QR codes instead of NFC. At least for the time being, Apple remains on the sidelines of the NFC ecosystem.
Unfortunately for NFC and the vendors working to bring this technology to the mainstream, competing solutions like QR codes can enable many of the same applications as NFC with far less complexity and cost, although QR codes lack the inherent security NFC offers. Unlike NFC, which requires merchants to invest in contactless infrastructure, QR code-based apps generally can be enabled without major hardware investment, since they leverage hardware such as scanners/imagers that are already installed at most merchants. VDC views the costs associated with specialized contactless hardware as one of the most immediate and obvious barriers to merchant adoption of NFC.
From a consumer adoption perspective, NFC is equally challenged due to relatively weak awareness and accessibility. While QR codes are highly recognizable and printed on everything from real estate signs to product packaging to billboards, NFC-tagged items are highly uncommon and, not surprisingly, lack the immediate recognition of QR codes. As with merchants, consumers do not require a special device to read/display QR codes—almost any common smartphone is capable of supporting a QR app, making QR codes far more accessible to the masses today. In comparison, the population of consumers currently using NFC, while growing, is still highly limited. While NFC smartphone penetration levels could in theory one day approach the levels of smartphone adoption in general, but at this point in time, such a reality seems to be at least several years away, if not entirely uncertain.
To be clear, this recent announcement does not by any means preclude Apple from integrating NFC in its future hardware or software offerings. However, it clearly demonstrates that the company can and will enable many of the same applications (such as an m.wallet) discussed in the context of NFC via alternate technologies. Could Apple announce its support of NFC with the iPhone 5 later this year? Certainly—but we advise any enterprise evaluating NFC investment not to bank on it.