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Near field communication (NFC), the short-distance wireless technology, is poised to have a break out year, with the technology built into more and more handsets in 2012. But despite all the hype around NFC mobile payments, it’s not going to be easy convincing consumers about the benefits of paying with a tap of their phone. What consumers need to understand and embrace NFC is a gateway drug, said Andrew Bocking, Vice President, Handheld Software Product Management at RIM (s rimm).
I spoke with Bocking about RIM’s vision for NFC and he said that the company isn’t betting big on payments right away, though it has pledged support for the Isis payment system from Verizon (s vz), AT&T (s t)and T-Mobile. The first step, said Bocking, is introducing NFC to consumers and getting them familiar with the process of waving a phone to initiate an action. Only then can consumers really embrace the more complex act of paying with their NFC-enabled phone.
“At a consumer level it’s about what will this do for me; it’s less about NFC and what capabilities it offers,” said Bocking. “A lot of people are interested in mobile commerce, but they’re not necessarily thinking of NFC, they’re thinking about what they can do with Visa and MasterCard and American Express.”
That’s where BlackBerry Tag comes in. RIM announced this week that with BlackBerry 7.1, it has now enabled content sharing between NFC-enabled BlackBerry Curves and Bolds using a new BlackBerry Tag application. Users can tap their phones together and share contacts, pictures, URLs and documents. They can also become BBM messaging buddies by tapping their phones together or pair their smartphone with an NFC-enabled Bluetooth device.
Bocking said the content-sharing function is useful because it can be enabled through just two phones, without having to wait for merchants to install NFC hardware. And it showcases some of the seamless magic involved in NFC, helping people get their head around the technology.
Tag “could be a great gateway drug or onramp to get people comfortable with the technology and open them up to more complex multi-party ecosystems and trust-required offerings like mobile commerce,” he said.
RIM has made a big bet on NFC, with more than half of its latest BlackBerry 7 devices equipped with NFC. Bocking said more of the company’s portfolio will feature the technology though he didn’t provide a time table for deployment. The company has also begun trials with HID to use NFC-equipped phones for physical access to buildings and rooms. And it will be supporting Isis as it begins its rollout later this year in Salt Lake City and Austin.
Even with use cases like Tag or Android Beam, Google’s (s goog) equivalent for content sharing between NFC phones, it’s still going to be limited by the lack of interoperability between NFC sharing platforms. Bocking admits that’s a hindrance but he has hopes that Tag, Beam and Nokia’s NFC content-sharing system can ultimately work together if they stick to standards set out by the NFC Forum.
But he believes that 2012 will still be a pivotal year for NFC now that a lot of the heavy lifting has been done. Now it’s time to show off the technology, he said.
“What you’ll see in 2012 will be what many hoped 2011 would be,” Bocking said. “2012 will be transitional year, but one in which people will see the promise of NFC first hand. It’s going to be an exciting year for us.”