There’s rumours flying around about Apple possibly pulling out of their previous NFC (Near-Field Communications) launch commitment for the iPhone 5. Of course, Apple has neither substantiated or denied these rumours. However, I can already hear a collective sigh of relief from many of the card product teams globally who now think they have another year before having to worry about NFC. If, and that’s a big if…if Apple does decide to delay NFC does it really change anything?
Firstly, a delay is not cancelling their intention to deploy a strong mobile payment platform. Secondly, a delay in Apple launching NFC doesn’t change the fact that Google, Nokia, Samsung and a bunch of others have already deployed NFC capable phones and that increasingly NFC capable POS are fast becoming ubiquitous. Thirdly, it’s not like the outcome is going to be any different in 3 years time.
Apple is still massively committed to NFC as a strategy. They’ve created a world-class team led by Benjamin Vigier, they have a ton of patents around mobile payments with NFC integrated into the experience, their iPhone platform has been designed with this capability in mind, and they’ve been busy buying up NFC chipsets. If you think they are walking away from NFC, then whatever you’re smoking is some pretty potent stuff.
The fact is, if your business is based on plastic credit or debit cards – it is just a matter of time before you are going to have your Encyclopedia Brittanica, Blockbuster, Borders, Newspaper, Video Casette, CD-Rom moment. That is, payments modality will change not because of an Apple iPhone, but because the mobile phone as a device is just too ubiquitous and too easy to use as a payments device. Whether it is NFC, P2P, Square or other emerging mobile-based payments technology, the mobile phone is still going to be the future of payment interactions.
The need for standards
In Japan and South Korea, they’ve been running NFC payments networks and technology since 2001. So right now today, you could argue the US and the EU are 10 years behind in respect to this capability. Now admittedly in Japan SUICA and FeLiCa are two separate standards, but this hasn’t held up adoption. In South Korea they didn’t bother with a competitive approach, they just got all the parties together and demanded a standard. The thing is in both South Korea and Japan, the carriers, the banks, the regulators all worked together for the greater good.
I just don’t see this happening in a location like the US. Admittedly in the EU there is probably more of a framework for having a standard, but the worst thing for NFC is the likelihood of a whole cabal of different players who want to ‘own’ the standard. You can’t incentivize people to cooperate unless they understand how they’re going to make money, and with interchange under threat in multiple markets, then the most obvious revenue stream around NFC mobile payments is no longer considered the potential cash cow it once could have been.
But none of that really matters. It still won’t stop NFC, P2P, smartphone or mobile adoption rates in any appreciable way.
One of the most intelligent things I heard in respect to the Apple NFC rumour (which incidentally I think is probably an Apple Black Ops false flag operation) was from David Birch from Consult Hyperion. When we were discussing whether the rumor was true he said:
“Not sure. If it is true, this gives Google a real opportunity…”
Right now Google has the phone and the Android OS platform capability to deploy NFC payments, they just need the App(s), the wallet and the integrated payment network. I would hedge my bets that they’re pretty close to doing that.
So at the end of the day – whether the iPhone 5 does or doesn’t have NFC – it doesn’t mean NFC is no longer viable, and doesn’t mean the phone won’t be the most disruptive device in payments and banking ever!