Intel, Samsung, Apple deals herald NFC success

The long-rumoured rise of Near Field Communications - NFC - technology looks to be finally happening, with every company and its dog jumping on the bandwagon for mobile payment, communication and even security systems.

NFC - a short-range radio technology which has long been heralded as the Next Big Thing for portable devices - is hardly new, but only recently has its promise started bearing fruit, with analysts claiming that NFC-powered mobile payment systems will take millions of pounds annually within the next few years.

Google certainly believes the hype: the advertising giant is running a US-only payment service using the technology, having included the hardware in its Nexus S Android-powered smartphone. Companies like Nokia have promised to follow suit with NFC in all future handsets, while Orange and Barclaycard are also getting into the act and new payment processing outfits are springing up around the technology.

Full mainstream support for the system is still lacking, however - but recent moves by some of the biggest names in technology indicate that could be about to change.

For starters, chip giant Intel has pledged its support for MasterCard's PayPass contactless payment system in the next family of Ultrabook slim-and-light laptops.

"Our goal is to enable users of Ultrabook devices and future generations of Intel-based PCs to enjoy the convenience of e-commerce," claims Intel's George Thangadurai, "while making online payments safer from malware and hackers with the advanced security capabilities of Intel Identity Protection Technology,"

Unlike the NFC technology built into smartphones - which is primarily used to wave the device at a payment terminal to make small-ticket purchases - Intel's vision is to allow the user to wave an NFC-equipped credit card or smartphone at their Ultrabook to make a payment, rather than waving the Ultrabook at a confused barista.

Samsung, too, is increasing its stake in the NFC market - having already worked on the technology for Google in the Nexus S and added support in its homebrew bada mobile platform - with the launch of a new device it dubs 'Secu-NFC', in the hopes of addressing concerns regarding the security of contactless payment systems.

"Mobile payment, ticketing, data sharing, electronic ID card functions are some of the diverse user services enabled by NFC technology, which is becoming a key service enabler on emerging convergence technologies," Samsung's Dojun Rhee explains. "Samsung’s new secure NFC solution with its high data storage capacity provides consumers with ample room to expand operation service and features to deliver the ultimate user experience."

While Rhee's reference to a 'high data storage capacity' needs to be taken in proportion - he's talking about a 760KB storage space on the first-generation SENHRN1 Secu-NFC chip - the component is the same size as a standalone NFC SIP-packaged chip, making it an easy upgrade.

The real missing piece from the puzzle, however, is Apple. Despite numerous rumours that the iPhone 5 - now revealed as the iPhone 4S - would include the technology as standard, the Cupertino-based company has yet to throw its hat into the ring.

The company's EasyPay service - a quick-payment system, currently only available in the US, which allows iPhone users to scan a barcode in Apple Stores and then charge the purchase to their iTunes account - suggests that it is looking seriously at smartphone payment technology, however.

That makes NFC inclusion in the 'real' iPhone 5 - due to launch next year, possibly featuring a four-inch LG-made display - a near-certainty. While the timing of the iPhone 4S launch has allowed Apple to let others work out the kinks in the technology - a common tactic for the fruit-themed company - it's hard to imagine Apple ignoring NFC for much longer.

2011 may not have been the year that NFC went mainstream, but it has certainly set things up nicely for an explosion in 2012.