The next thing a smartphone will replace, if Google Inc. (NASDAQ: GOOG) has its way, is your credit/debit card. The Wall Street Journal reports that the maker of the Android smartphone operating system is working with Verifone Systems, Inc. (NYSE: PAY) to make the ubiquitous Verifone point-of-sale card readers talk to a smartphone with embedded near-field communication (NFC) technology. And once your credit card goes, your driver’s license could be next.
The technology is similar to RFID, the little tags and stickers that some merchants now put on merchandise to help keep up with inventory. An NFC-enabled Verifone reader would allow customers merely to touch their smartphones on the reader to pay for their purchases. NFC is one-way communication, so the reader wouldn’t be able to transfer anything to the phone.
The Nexus S Android-based phone from Samsung has NFC technology already built-in. A case of all dressed up with nowhere to go. Yet.
Paying for things is a good start, but won’t make any money for Google. As usual, Google has bigger ideas. The NFC technology can be embedded in just about anything for a very few cents. Google has already distributed posters with NFC that merchants can post in the store windows and that will allow passers-by to touch the poster with an NFC-enabled phone and get more info about the store or maybe even a coupon to spend right now.
For Google, NFC allows the company to target ads to users based on their location and the kinds of things they have purchased before. As with virtually everything Google does, this is all about advertising and creating a new platform to serve up ads to a specific user at a specific time and place. This is a very powerful idea, and by tying up with Verifone, Google gets huge visibility in the retail sector.
It doesn’t take a lot of imagination to see NFC technology being used for all kinds of things, up to and including drivers’ licenses and passports. Those days are still a fair ways off, but they’re on the horizon.
And what about Apple Inc. (NASDAQ: AAPL) and its iPhone? According to the International Business Times, the company fears that the lack of industry standards in NFC technology will cripple the service. Apple has apparently decided not to include NFC technology in its next iPhone.
Instead, Apple is apparently working on a mobile payment system that would funnel charges through its iTunes store. It’s the typical Apple model: provide a well-designed and comprehensive service and take a cut of the action. It’s been a pretty good model for the company over the past 10 years.
The threat to Apple here is the ubiquity of the NFC technology. There’s no way to keep anyone out, so phones running virtually any mobile operating system will work. If every other mobile phone in the world supports NFC, Apple’s payment system will have to be worlds better than NFC in order to attract customers. Try to imagine a way that Apple could make a more functional credit card. Pretty hard to do, right?
It’s always been a mistake to count out the folks in Cupertino just because the rest of us can’t see the point of what they’re doing. Maybe that will be the case this time too. Anything’s possible.