Google already bringing NFC into the mainstream

Google didn't just unveil NFC support in Gingerbread and the Nexus S, its pioneering its use in everyday life for businesses in Portland, OR.

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One of the advances in Google's new Gingerbread release of Android and the Samsung Nexus S is support for NFC (near field communication). NFC is a wireless mechanism for transmitting short pieces of data between a mobile device like a smartphone and NFC enabled terminals.

The classic NFC example, and the one most likely to propel the technology into the mainstream, is the ability to act as a mobile payment solution. Instead of swiping a credit or debit card (or holding a card up to a wireless reader like the Mastercard Pay Pass terminals available in some retail locations), you merely hold your phone up to a reader.

While mobile commerce maybe the way NFC will find its way into everyday use, the technology can be used for other purposes and companies have been actively exploring additional uses of the technology in home, workplace, and retail settings.

I've discussed Apple's reported exploration of NFC in future Macs as a way for an iOS device to be used as a login device rather than the traditional username and password. Apple's ambitions may actually go further, allowing a user's entire account including settings and home folder items to be stored on an iPhone or iPod as well, making NFC not just a login mechanism but a way of carrying your personal Mac user account with you to any Mac that you use.

A little bit less lofty in ambition, Google is already proving the power of NFC beyond mobile payments. In fact, the company is moving beyond mobile payments before that use of the technology has even become a mainstream reality.

This week, Google expanded its hotspot campaign for businesses in Portland, Oregon. The hotspot campaign allows users to rate and review businesses in Google's directory. These ratings and reviews are then presented to other users searching for nearby businesses (or businesses in a specific area) through Google Maps and search results. The service is similar to many other online business-rating services and communities including Yelp! (which Google recently tried to buy).

In Portland, businesses can also request to be part of a new Google Places initiative. Businesses can request a kit from Google with marketing resources, including java jackets for coffee cups, sugar/sweetener packets, restaurant check holders, pens, and stickers that can be displayed on doors and windows. The initial Google Places campaign isn't anything spectacularly original. Many other similar services (including community-specific organizations and chambers of commerce) have offered similar programs for years.

What Google is doing in Portland that's unique is brining the Google Places initiative and NFC together. The stickers provided to business in Portland can contain and NFC chip that users with an appropriately equipped phone can read. Each business can store additional information for passers by on the chip. Google hasn't been specific about what business information could be stored, but things like menus, lists of services and prices, upcoming event schedules, and even electronic coupons all seem like viable contenders.

It isn't as ambitious as using an NFC-enabled smartphone to act as a login key with your complete computing experience. It isn't even as ambitious as a mobile payment system. But, it does show that there's a lot of possibilities in the ways that NFC can be used and it showcases the technology without waiting for a mass upgrade to NFC in all smartphones, computers, or payment processing solutions. That alone could give Google a big leg up in helping define how NFC develops as an everyday technology.

Ryan Faas writes about personal technology for ITworld. Learn more about Faas' published works and training and consulting services at www.ryanfaas.com. Follow him on Twitter @ryanfaas.

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