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The Mobile Lowdown 04-01-11: NFC Europe; Apple Tweaks; BMW VC Fund

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Our look at some of the big stories today in mobile: Two more NFC initiatives in Europe — one in the UK and one in Spain; two reports on some of the bells and whistles that we may see in Apple’s future mobile products; BMW startups up a $100 million fund to invest in mobile; Swype picks up $3.5 million.

NFC: Two new initiatives for NFC in Europe, which will help drive more familiarity with the service, which will be important for when (and if) it hits the mainstream.

In the UK, Visa and Samsung are teaming up to create what appears to be a new mobile handset especially for the Olympics in London, which will take place in 2012. The “Olympic and Paralympic Games mobile handset”, as the device is being called now (but will surely get a snappier name when and if it really reaches the market), will be available for the general public and will come with NFC technology built in and a pre-installed payment app to use with the chip.

The phones will be distributed to Olympic athletes, and the companies say they will also be selling them to consumers via operators — although none have been announced yet. Visa has been working on NFC trials with providers like O2 and Orange in the past. All those who use the handset, in any case, will need a Visa-enabled SIM — purchased from a mobile operator — to use the service.

The announcement gives no details on the actual device, but this will not be Samsung’s first foray into NFC; the Korean handset maker has also embedded NFC in the Nexus S Google (NSDQ: GOOG) handset.

If and when these handsets actually do come to pass, this will be a big blow for Nokia (NYSE: NOK), which started working with Visa on NFC trials as far back as 2008 and would have been a natural partner for the service. Samsung and Visa are both official Olympic sponsors.

While Visa and Samsung will be using athletes as their first guinea pigs for their NFC devices, Telefonica (NYSE: TEF) will be using its employees.

The company has been trialling an NFC service with 1,500 workers in Sitges, Spain, and now it plans to extend that to 12,500 more employees worldwide. “Distrito NFC“, as the trial is called, looks like it will be as much an enterprise use-case rather as a consumer trial: users will not only be able to purchase goods with their handsets but they will also use them “on campus” to get entry into secured buildings, buy food in company cafeterias, and other office-related transactions.

Participating companies include Autogrill, Bankinter, BBVA, La Caixa and Visa. The other firms assisting with the project are G&D, Oberthur and Sermepa. Samsung will also be providing handsets in the Telefonica trial.

Apple: The blogosphere abhors a vacuum, and so, when Apple (NSDQ: AAPL) is quiet on new product announcements, tech writers love to come up with stories about what new features those new products might have. Two of the newer items:

3D: AppleInsider notes that the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office this week posted a new application from Apple related to 3D imaging. Using multiple cameras and other proprietary hardware, Apple is exploring ways of creating not only three-dimensional photos but videos as well.

Spaces: The folks at Patently Apple have unearthed another patent from Apple on the concept of “Spaces”, or ways of toggling efficiently from one application and view on a touch-screen device such as an iPad. Go to the link to check out diagrams of what kinds of gestures are being tested to, say, move from a web browsing window to a media player and then to an e-book, in what Patently Apple guesses might also be a preview of what OS X Lion might look like on the iPad.

BMW: The still-nascent connection between mobile content/technolgy and the automotive industry may have just gotten significantly closer: BMW has announced a $100 million fund, the BMW iVentures Capital Fund, to invest in startups working on mobile services that might ultimately be the kind of app that a person in a car would like to have — for example, services that help find available parking spaces; nearby mechanics; or various mapping and location apps.

This is part of a bigger strategy at BMW to think further ahead about how to implement technology in future products. The company is also creating a new line of smaller, urban vehicles under the name BMWi, which would be a natural home for many of these new kinds of apps.

BMW has already invested in one-such startup, My City Way, and it plans on announcing another investment soon.