Near Field Communication (NFC) is a new technology that will be appearing on the next generation of mobile handsets and available to the masses within the next year or two. What does it mean and what opportunities will it bring to the marketplace?

The driving force behind NFC is to enable mobile payments. Instead of swiping your card or handing over some cash you will simply be able to tap your phone on something like a chip and pin machine. In doing so, the money will be deducted from your account. The technology is available today, having been rolled out to a number of UK stores in the last few weeks. However, most phones do not yet have the NFC tech built into them so it will take a while before the mobile wallet becomes the norm.

Just as with a credit card or a wad of cash, the inherent security of such a system is its physicality; You have to be holding the device. Companies such as Google are already bringing products to market that take the obvious security concerns into account by forcing you to ‘top up’ you mobile wallet with discrete amounts of money. In doing so, a thief cannot drain your entire bank account simply by snagging your phone…at least not by using NFC. In addition, NFC can only be used to make relatively small payments, although if the tech takes off this is surely likely to change.

So, now you know. But is that all it is?

Beyond Mobile Payment

It wasn’t all that long ago that phones didn’t come with cameras. Nowadays, you would be hard pushed to find a phone without a camera; the two have virtually become synonymous. But with the rise of the smartphone, you can do a lot more with the camera than just take pictures. You can take video, read bar-codes, scan documents and even super-impose search data onto the world around you. The technology is being used for more than simply taking the odd snap-shot.

Likewise, NFC is a new piece of mobile tech that is ripe for a whole raft of stuff beyond mobile payment. And I find it rather odd that, at the moment at least, there seems to be very little information out there about what it could be used for.

Phones are stuffed full of technology. Touch screens, cameras, compasses, GPS, gyroscopes, accelerometers, proximity sensors…its an impressive list. All of these components can, and are, exploited by mobile apps. NFC will be the new kid on the block and I am sure that developers will have a field day coming up with exciting new apps that make use of its unique capabilities.

I’m going to have a go at predicting the future and tell you where I think NFC can and will be used.

Social networking

Obvious candidates are apps such as facebook and linked-in. Say you are out an about and get talking to someone you want to keep in touch with. Simply launch the app and touch your phones together. Instant friends.

Other obvious uses are sharing contact details and business cards. NFC, not having the range of bluetooth, should ensure that you can do this safely and in person.

Social gaming

The now ubiquitous Angry Birds app is already building support for NFC into its next incarnation, albeit on a fairly arbitrary premise. However, I think that NFC has the potential to really take off in the social gaming arena.

Angry Birds. The first game to use NFC?

Imagine a massively multi-player online game like World of Warcraft but part played out in the physical world instead of the purely virtual. Maybe you would have to locate guild masters in your local area and use NFC with them in order to unlock access to other guild members that are taking part in the game and live in the same town as you. Perhaps we will see a blending between computer games and the real world? Sounds far fetched? Maybe it is, but there are certainly others in the know who are predicting a shift to this kind of gaming.

Or how about evolutionary games such as spore, where you create a creature who evolves. What if this evolution was driven by NFC? Your creature could ‘mate’ with a creature living on another device by bumping phones. You may end up with an evolutionary genealogy, for the virtual offspring of your first generation stud, based on real people you have met and interacted with. A social network of meta-parents. You heard it here first!

Promotional opportunities

It’s a pain filling in forms to enter competitions. What if you’re at the checkout and you have just paid for your shopping with your mobile wallet. A secondary bump of the phone and you can automatically enter the current promotional competition, beaming all your contact details straight to HQ (and ensuring you will be targeted for future offers!)

Maybe you could even do this at the bus stop with NFC enabled ad walls? Say a film is being advertised. Want to know what time it’s on at your local cinema? Simply bump your phone on the ad while running your ‘my best cinema app’ and hey presto.

An Intimate Exchange

The unique characteristic of NFC is its intimacy. The device and the owner of the device have to make physical contact with another device. This makes it a way of exchanging data with people or technology you are standing right in front of and, as a result, perhaps allowing more important/personal data to be exchanged than you normally would.

Do you think you could make use of NFC? Does the technology excite or concern you? Let us know what you think.