Thanks to iPhone 6 and Apple Pay, NFC finally matters in 2014

In the end no one will remember that Android had NFC first; they’ll only remember that Apple Pay and the iPhone 6 made NFC relevant. Tech pundits roundly criticized Apple for failing to add Near Field Communication to the iPhone 5 and then the iPhone 5S, pointing to the fact that various Android smartphones and already adopted the technology. But what they missed was that NFC didn’t do much of anything practical on those phones, and therefore no one among the mainstream even knew what it was. But now that Apple Pay has been implemented in an easy-as-pie manner complete with wide scale compatibility with retail stores nationwide, suddenly the public no longer thinks “NFC” is referring to a professional sports term. But now what?

The Android platform will no doubt scrap its own NFC roadmap and attempt to replace it with something more similar to the Apple Pay model. But with so many loosely connected hardware vendors offering such disparate hardware, how long will it take the coalition to come up with something cohesive enough for retailers to be willing to commit to – and how much more entrenched will Apple Pay be by that time, as Apple sells even more iPhone 6 units to bolster its sudden lead in the NFC payment arena?

Recent history says that’s a tough answer to predict. The fragmented nature of the Android platform makes everything more difficult when it comes to development and standardization, but those gaps have been closed at various speeds. Any mobile app developer will acknowledge that coming up with an Android version takes whole number multiples longer than writing an iOS version, yet most app developers do end up offering an Android version of their app eventually, if often not as swiftly as their iPhone version arrives. But when third party hardware is involved, one might look at the fact that Android vendors will likely never be able to cohesively strike partnerships with the major car manufacturers to take on something like Apple’s CarPlay.

NFC payments merely require retailers to place a scanner at their retail counters, which isn’t quite as cumbersome as pre-building technology into an automobile. But while vendors might eventually be convinced to place a second scanner at their registers for Android users, they won’t be willing to put a third or a fourth scanner; it’ll only happen if and when Android phone vendors can present retailers with a single unified front.

That never came close to happening during the time that Android phones were shipping with built in NFC chips. Apple has managed to pull it off within weeks of entering the NFC fray. And the popularity-lead of Apple Pay will only grow that much larger before Android can come up with a countermove.

Phil Moore

Phil Moore

Phil covers tech for Stabley Times.