Wednesday, May 18, 2011


Almost a year ago, I used RFID to connect kids' art and computer guts. You could put a tag on the paper, scan it with the RFID reader, and make something happen on screen. Things went pretty well.

Since then, I've learned that RFID is part of Near Field Communication (NFC), and NFC is big. Shortly after legendary Marissa Mayer took over Google's location services, they took the visual barcodes off of their Google Places posters and started using NFC, which makes it faster to look up restaurant offers and reviews, but only if you have the right smartphone

I was watching a demo of how their future phones will use this when I realized what's going on - Google is making a long bet against Apple.

  • Apple's main business is catalogs - music, movies, and apps. People print barcodes so that you can get a song or a cool app from a printed page, poster, or website

  • NFC tags have actual wire in them, like this homemade one, and can't be printed in magazines. In the demo, when the Google guy scans a CD case to sample its music, I could only think who buys a CD? So, weakness: NFC only really works for physical goods or places.

  • Apple doesn't have a market for real world places. The iPhone and iPad rely on Google Maps, which Google has been making bigger and better by connecting businesses to their own Place page on Maps, and giving out free posters like the one above.

  • Apple doesn't have a market for physical goods, and they take a huge cut out of everything sold through them. Google has their Paypal clone, Google Checkout, just waiting to be used.

  • NFC supports sharing, so you can push a YouTube video to someone with a different phone, or a big TV, just by putting your phone next to the receiver. You don't need a Starbucks app and a Dennys app and a WeirdMallStore app after all - any nearby screen or surface can talk to your phone, even if Steve Jobs never approved its design. Both of these concepts are heresy in the iPhone world.

Personally I care more about using it for maps and cities, but I want to figure out where it's going before I get on board. If this post is close to the mark, then Apple will be slow to adopt NFC without an attachment, but there's enough potential for techies and businesses to start using it now.

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