Tuesday, July 19, 2011

NFC based applications making everyday life easier

Endeavour is a specialist Mobility Company, helping organizations utilize NFC capabilities on Smartphones. Endeavour has been providing strategic consulting and product development for Mobile enabling businesses in the Manufacturing, Media, Print, Healthcare, Consumer solutions, Telecom and Business Intelligence verticals. Endeavour has a strong mobile application development team on all mobile platforms in the market today, including, RIM, Apple, Symbian, Android, Windows Mobile, Palm Pre, micro Linux, Brew. Endeavour is based out of Austin, Texas, Bangalore India and London, UK. 

Imagine it's 2013. You walk into a store; pick up an electronic magnetic trolley. As you buy your groceries you put it inside the trolley.  Once you are done with your shopping the total amount will be flashed on a tiny device placed on the trolley. You take out your mobile, wave the device around and click 'pay'. But then, your Smartphone application reminds you that you are eligible for some discount at that store. It calculates the discount and automatically deducts the payable amount from your account.  The whole process is complete in a few minutes and all thanks to NFC.
NFC and NFC Forum 
NFC i.e Near-field communications a new wireless technology is slowly getting implemented into the mobile sphere. NFC uses Magnetic field induction to enable communication between devices in close proximity. It operates at unlicensed 13.65 MHZ. It’s based on RFID technology, and its open platform technology is approved by ISO/IEC global standard. NFC Forum was formed in 2004. The forum has defined 4 types of tag for operating mode for devices as: Pear2Pear, Reader/Writer & Card emulation.  

NFC applications going a long way  
NFC, makes it possible to not only use your phone to make purchases in a store, but ultimately replace a lot of other things you normally carry around in your wallet. Applications integrated with NFC enabled phones have the potential to replace hotel room key, business card, public transportation (i.e bus, train) card, concert, sports or other event tickets and also boarding pass for getting on a plane. NFC apps brings a future where your identification, be it your driver’s license, passport, biometric and/or insurance data will be accessible through NFC enabled device. Google Android NFC devices by touching can launch the game on the second device. Using a peer to peer scenario, NFC can also be used to sync devices, share mobile apps with your friends and transfer photos between cameras, smartphones or tablets.

NFC tags have already reached a price point where it is feasible to print off batches of NFC stickers that enable users to create special ‘short cuts’ that make their lives easier. For example, when a child gets home from school, he or she could touch an NFC sticker just inside the door that sends an ‘I’m home from school’ message to a parent. Older people with poor sight or suffering from arthritis could have NFC stickers containing friends’ and family members’ phone numbers saved on them, these could be stuck to the corners of photographs of these people and, when touched with an NFC-enabled phone, would initiate a phone call to the right person, without the need to look up phone numbers.

Restaurants would be able to serve up menus via passer-by simply tapping a device to a sign. Extending the payment option, Endeavour has developed the next generation mobile payment system application. It’s customizable for hospitality domain, where the customers could pay the restaurant bill using his / her iPhone. The application at the launch takes personal & credit card information which would be used to pay the bills. Bill would be presented on the screen with the details like item description and price, discounts (coupons) tax and total bill amount. There is provision to pay tip (could be by percentage of the bill amount or fixed amount) and the app would prompt to enter the CVV no of the credit card before submitting the payment process. The application also screens list of all the past bills and discount (coupons) details.

NFC Services beyond Payment
As mobile commerce emerges, companies like Google, Square, and Apple are placing their bets on some form of mobile payment where the users' smartphone becomes a credit transactional device. Google has teamed up with MasterCard and CitiGroup to produce Google Wallet. Google Wallet is a mobile app, it will do more than a regular wallet ever could. One would be able to store credit cards, offers, loyalty cards and gift cards. When you tap to pay, your phone will also automatically redeem offers and earn loyalty points for you.  US outlets of Starbucks internationally known for its coffee has come out with apps for Android, iPhone and BlackBerry that allow users to pay using their mobile phones at its outlets. The app basically links to a customer's existing Starbucks account through data connection and deducts the amount from it once he has decided to pay using the mobile phone. Silicon Valley startup Naratte claims can do roughly the same thing without adding a chip to the handset. Naratte introduced Zoosh, a technology that lets phones exchange transaction information via inaudible sound waves. Zoosh could also be used for transactions between two handsets, including social transactions such as becoming connected on a social-networking service or exchanging contact information.

2011 will be flooded with NFC devices
As Nokia demoed recently using N9, NFC can allow cell phones to pair with peripherals like speakers or Bluetooth headsets just by coming in contact with them. There is a possibility that the next Xperia range of smartphones from Sony Ericsson will have NFC chip in them. Nokia expected to ship a handful of devices with NFC chip in them by the end of this year. The iPhone 5 with NFC would be one of the most high-profile devices that would try to replace wallet and push mobile payments. Android's devices with gingerbread 2.3.3 has full NFC support where Google has added new capabilities for developers, including updates to the API that now allow for both reading and writing to standard NFC tags. It also has advanced Intent dispatching that gives apps more control over how/when they are launched when an NFC tag comes into range. Blackberry is not behind the race, NFC-enabled BlackBerry Bold 9900 and 9930 smartphones based on Blackberry 7 OS support for both tag reading/writing and card emulation applications.  

Not so good sides of NFC, which is getting addressed
Now let’s take a second to think about how much cash we walk around with on a daily basis. Next consider the last time you wanted to purchase an item and you were unable to use a credit or debit card. The fact is we don’t see technological advancements have been made in recent years to adequately replace the flimsy plastic and magnetic strip. Lack of smartphone buyers, financial institution reluctant to take a massive risk, software security, likelihood of fraud and theft in the relatively unsecured mobile world are few of the hurdles NFC needs to overcome.

NFC fantasy of making life easier, has to really find answers in the coming months for - What rules, regulations and/or restrictions will be placed on the use of NFC technology? Will we have a situation where Visa’s are only available on Nokia’s or MasterCard on Android? Will we be charged severely or exploited by the owners of this technology? And what benefits do the pioneers of this technology stand to gain? NFC sounds like the future of mobile payments; yet we can’t throw out your credit cards. We would like to forget our wallet at home while stepping out just because we have NFC phones. One could have the world's best NFC technology, but they need to get this embedded in handsets, and retailers have to be able to process it, and consumers have to be given a reason to use it.

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