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To NFC, or Not NFC? That Was My Personal Smartphone Question...

I admit it—I’m an Apple user. Call me whatever you want…fanboy, sheep, mindless minion worshipping at the altar of the Great Jobs. It doesn't bother me. In my experience, Apple stuff—while pricey—lasts longer, is generally easier to use for those of us who are not (and have aspirations of being) computer programmers and is usually (but not always) very well-designed and supported from UI, UX and aesthetic perspectives. Case in point: my recently deceased (cause of death: buggy “home” button) iPhone 3Gs provided nearly 4 years of trouble-free service despite the general abuse I heaped upon it.

Contrary to what one might assume, despite being a technology analyst, I do not eat, breathe and sleep tech. Certainly I appreciate technology for the conveniences and other benefits it provides me, but generally view any device as if it were an appliance. Sure, I get excited whenever it is time to look at a new laptop, smartphone or what have you—but after the initial novelty wears off, I just want the thing to function as intended—with minimal hassle and no headaches. I’m not the guy camping out in the mall for the latest i-device. I AM the guy who waited 7 years between getting a new laptop.

That being said, I have a soft spot in my heart reserved for NFC—both because I think it is a (potentially) useful technology and because I spend a significant amount of my work focuses on the market. With my iPhone having been on its last legs for the better part of this year, I (like many others) wanted a new iPhone with NFC. But, as we all know, the iPhone 5 is not NFC enabled. Thus, I had a decision to make with my new phone: stay loyal to Apple/iOS, or jump ship to Android or Windows and get a phone with NFC.

I thought long and hard about going the non-iOS/NFC route. I read many online reviews of leading Android and Windows smartphones. I tested the devices in-person at the store. I imagined what I might use NFC for in my day-to-day life—now, probably not much, but perhaps in the future, paying for lunch or a coffee with a tap of my phone. As someone who dislikes cash, contactless payment is an appealing concept.

Conversely, I envisioned the potential downsides of straying from iOS—mainly, hassles with syncing to my home computer (yes, it’s an Apple) and learning a new  mobile operating system. While both of these are relatively minor issues, I was left with wondering, why bother? What benefits does NFC offer that justify these (and other) compromises? I could not find a compelling answer to that question—and so I went with another iPhone.

Certainly, my personal technology usage, preferences and views may be unique. But, strictly in the context of NFC, I believe they are generally applicable to most consumers—and indicative of the NFC ecosystem’s shortcomings. Other than the increase in NFC smartphone availability seen in 2012, what material progress has the ecosystem made recently? Very little.

At present, in most regions, NFC cannot be used for the headline applications—payment and ticketing, for example—for which it is billed. Right now, most consumers using NFC are confined to simple, basic applications like P2P sharing and pairing.  For me—and I suspect many other consumers—these features are “nice-to-haves,” not “must-haves” when shopping for a new smartphone. Perhaps in the future, the NFC ecosystem will progress to the point where contactless payment and ticketing are broadly-accessible to the average consumer. But, until that time, it’s hard to envision NFC having a material impact on consumers’ device preferences—particularly those that are hooked on iOS.

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