Turning views of printed advertisements into web page views is very much a lead-into-gold conundrum for many of today’s marketers. While QR codes have accomplished that task fairly well in some international markets, it’s yet to really take off here in the U.S. in quite the same way. And there’s a good chance it never will, because another emerging technology — near field communication (NFC) — is soon to take its place, not only for marketers, but for any business looking to make the connection between their efforts in the real world and online more tightly integrated.
You may have heard of NFC in the context of smartphones, since there’s been a lot of talk recently about its inclusion in upcoming handsets from many manufacturers. Google’s Nexus S (s goog) has it, and Apple’s next iPhone (s aapl) is widely rumored to come equipped with NFC, too. If you haven’t heard of it with regard to smartphones, then maybe you’ve used it with your credit card. MasterCard’s (s ma) PayPass and Visa’s (s v) PayWave systems both use NFC to allow a cardholder to simply swipe ot tap their cards on a reader to make small payments.
NFC will become omnipresent on consumer handsets in the next few years, according to many analysts. iSupply anticipates huge growth in the number of NFC-equipped cell phones, beginning with a significant spike in 2011 and climbing steadily to a high of 220.1 million units in 2014. Mobile payments are often discussed as the primary advantage of NFC technology, but that’s far from the only application.
NFC tags capable of being read by suitably equipped smartphones can be built-in to just about anything, from stickers to bus stop benches. Once scanned, they can quickly deliver information, like hyperlinks to websites. The technology already being used in education, healthcare and transit. Like QR codes, NFC enables the transmission of data from objects in the real world to devices cable of interacting with the web and displaying rich media content. Unlike QR codes, however, the bulk of NFC’s implementation burden will be on the side of businesses, keeping things light and breezy for consumers. Right now, most of my iPhone-owning friends aren’t aware that their devices can interact with QR codes, because they would have to download an app to do it. Smartphones of the near future will have NFC as a built-in feature, likely advertised by handset makers as a competitive advantage. NFC tags built into real-world objects will have a much higher chance of reaching a receptive audience as a result.
For those working on distributed teams, NFC has countless potential applications. For example, a smartphone could be used to communicate with a remote workstation, instantly setting up the target machine with the same settings as the user’s home device, letting them get to work right away. NFC tags (which are often passive and require no power source) could eventually even be printed into business cards, reports and other paper documents, carrying with them a complete interactive appendix or full digital copy of the printed materials.. NFC can even initiate Wi-Fi network connections, passing along secure authentication information and connecting remotely to a VLAN or office intranet painlessly for offsite and visiting employees. NFC-based check-ins could monitor an employee’s progress, helping to make sure that complicated operations between distributed team members in various far-flung locations are properly coordinated.
If your business is using key fobs or smartcards for controlling building access, then you’re already using NFC, but the technology has yet to catch on as a major means of transmitting information. That’s partly due to concerns about the tech’s security, but you’ll find NFC isn’t much more risky than most other technologies that companies use to accomplish the same tasks today. Cost is a major concern, since customized NFC readers can be expensive. But pretty soon, cost won’t be an issue, because people will have sophisticated NFC-capable devices built right into their phones. It’s likely that many employees working remotely will soon have the ability to use NFC tags, something which probably can’t be said for QR codes. While QR codes can be used by web workers now, they require everyone involved to be properly equipped and educated about their usage. NFC will be ubiquitous, cheap and require far less of a learning curve.