As the Black Friday shopping opportunities continue to pile up, the mentions of mobile payment services get ever more frequent, too: in just the last two days, no less than four major mobile players have been linked with new initiatives around NFC technology, the wave-and-pay system that its supporters hope will turn your mobile device into a purchasing juggernaut.
First, the most concrete of the news items: RIM (NSDQ: RIMM) and multinational mobile operator Telefonica (NYSE: TEF) have announced that Telefonica’s upcoming NFC service will work with BlackBerry smartphones. Currently the models that will be supported on the service include the BlackBerry Bold 9900 (pictured), BlackBerry Curve 9360 and BlackBerry Curve 9380, which will be equipped with SIMs with NFC chips embedded in them.
The two companies will first run a pilot of the service in Telefonica’s home market of Spain, where 350 employees of the company will use BlackBerry phones to purchase goods from participating businesses, and to gain entry into secure parts of the carrier’s offices and other premises. Telefonica plans for its “Wallet” service to be rolled out commercially across several of its international operations in 2012.
Telefonica’s role in this is being overseen by Telefonica Digital, the newly-created division of the company that oversees all new services and content across all of Telefonica’s footprint, which covers several markets in Europe (including O2 operations in the UK, Ireland and Germany), as well as operations across Latin America.
RIM is not Telefonica’s only partner in this venture; the carrier began to trial the Wallet operation back in April with Samsung providing the first handsets for the service. Samsung’s Nexus S device, made in partnership with Google (NSDQ: GOOG), is also getting used in the U.S. for Google’s Wallet NFC service.
While RIM and Telefonica have given a public push to NFC, it looks like two other very significant players might be moving closer to making some formal NFC announcements of their own.
According to a report this week in the Taiwanese publication Digitimes, both Apple (NSDQ: AAPL) and Microsoft (NSDQ: MSFT) are gearing up to put NFC support into their respective iOS and Windows Phone mobile platforms.
To be clear, unlike RIM, Samsung, Nokia (NYSE: NOK) and Google, neither Apple nor Microsoft have made any official statements about their plans for NFC support.
When when Digitimes’ report was picked up by the U.S. blog Redmond Pie, it noted that Apple, for one, has been rumored to be looking at NFC support for some time already, with patent applications and job openings hinting at something NFC-ish on the horizon.
Microsoft seems like it might need a bit more coaxing: Nokia, which has been an early supporter of NFC, has apparently been trying to talk to Microsoft about including it in the next build of Windows Phone, according to an interview with Nokia’s head of commerce Michael Halbherr in Engadget.
Meanwhile, Apple has been moving ahead on some interesting mobile payments initiatives of its own: earlier this month it began to enable users of its Apple Store app on iPhones to use it to pay for small-ticket items in actual Apple Stores, via their iTunes accounts. That system will use barcodes to link up items, although there’s no reason why that couldn’t be upgraded to NFC at some point in the future.
Currently, only about 10 percent of phones are NFC-enabled but Digitimes’ interviews with Taiwan-based smartphone markers indicates that this proportion could go up to 50 percent in the next two or three years.