NFC: the lonely, magical, too-powerful orphan

Why doesn't NFC gain a foothold in the phone market? It actually has too many possibilities.

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Photo by AngryJulieMonday

Here’s a fun little fact: Near field communication, or NFC, is a technology and standard that has been around since 2004. When NFC works, it works like magic. You put your phone on your kitchen counter, and it starts a 4-minute coffee timer. You tap an NFC phone against an NFC speaker, and they’re instantly paired up and streaming. No more docking phones, turning on car modes, or emailing photos to a friend in arm’s reach: just wave or tap.

But NFC is, at best, something that shows up mostly in high-end Android phones, specifically the Google-derived Nexus line. Most phone makers don’t advertise NFC specifically, but their own tap-to-send variants (complete with wink-nod implications). The iPhone doesn’t have NFC chips installed. NFC is installed, but not enabled, in Windows Phone 8 devices. NFC is very low-power and fairly easy to connect and extend, sometimes just with stickers. But it’s just not catching on.

Mark Wilson at Fast Company’s Co.Design imprint picks up on why: it’s _too powerful and full of possibilities. NFC is a mostly blank chalkboard, with two circles drawn on it: “Things Your Phone Might Do” and “Situations To Which Your Phone Can React.” It's a technology that is long on potential and short on immediate benefit. It is, to paraphrase a line Matt Haughey once said to Gina Trapani, like being promised ice cream, only to arrive at a table loaded with rock salt, milk, ice, and shakers.

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