NFC, from a hardware perspective, is yet to see mass adoption. While it’s easy enough to push the technology out to consumers over the course of a few years, support from retailers doesn’t look to be advancing very fast and could reasonably take another decade before we see significant commitment outside of the technology hubs of the world.
However, a few retailers are taking matters into their own hands and pushing out smartphone apps that encourage cashless payment outside of some sort of standardised NFC system. In this article, I’ll take a look at the current state of cashless payments in my daily life.
The Only NFC News is About the National Football Conference
Earlier this year and last, NFC was a pretty big topic and was making headlines as smartphones, particulary Androids, started to get NFC hardware and features.
But the buzz around near field communication seems to have died off now and, while phones are still being made with the required hardware, there’s very little going on with that tech.
Google Wallet’s release in the latter half of last year marked a significant step forward for retailer adoption of smartphone-based NFC. Its integration with the existing Visa and MasterCard contactless payment hardware gives it some appeal, but still not significant enough to call it a success. The only place local to me that could support Google Wallet, through MasterCard’s PayPass, is McDonalds and, even then, Google Wallet isn’t available for me to try since I live outside the US.
Proprietary Systems Are Where Success Can Be Seen
In saying that NFC as a standardised system is a failure, we must also recognise where single-retailer services are seeing success.
The Starbucks app provides an easy way to pay through a virtualisation of the proprietary Starbucks card, a valid method of payment in Starbucks outlets. From the app, you can easily add money to the balance of your card, check said balance, and then pay with your phone in the UK, US and Canada.
The Starbucks app for Android
A system like this doesn’t rely on anything else, just Starbucks themselves. Starbucks make the app and Starbucks integrate the necessary technology into their stores and card systems. Since it’s one company doing this whole system, they’re more likely to go all out and get every aspect up and running fluidly and seamlessly. They don’t need to ask and wait for a whole industry to move.
In a similar fashion to the Starbucks app and card, Apple announced Passbook for iOS 6. Unlike Google with Google Wallet, Apple does not have its own NFC system, although that’s something i’d love to see with the existing backend of the iTunes system.
Passbook acts as a platform that businesses can use to virtualise tickets, passes and cards on an iPhone or iPod touch, which are then scanned on the device instead of the physical item. It’s not quite a substitute for payments, but it’s a step towards a so-called e-wallet.
Passbook, an iOS 6 feature
Google Wallet and Passbook are similar in that they’re both software. However, the former requires a whole new set of hardware and infrastructure to be rolled out to physical locations before it can work, whereas Passbook need only be integrated into an existing ticketing or card system.
The bottom line is, Apple’s Passbook probably won’t get support from everyone, but it’s a lot easier for companies to get on board with than any type of NFC payment system.
Companies like airlines, food and drink stores and others have got on board with smartphones through their own apps, so it’s likely they’ll easily adopt a system like Passbook. We might check back in a year to see how both Google and Apple’s cashless systems are. At the moment, nothing’s really happening. It’ll take quite some time before the majority of retailers, especially more traditional ones, will get on board with any kind of NFC payments system. However, “e-wallet” solutions have a bright future ahead of them.