Will Near Field Communication Face the “QR Conundrum”?

May 17, 2011

2:00 pm

This post was written by guest blogger Josh Anisfeld and has been adapted from a previously published post.

QR codes have been all the rage in Europe and Asia for the past number of years.  Their uses range from mobile couponing and product information to fostering loyalty programs.  In fact, they are so popular in Asia that it is not unheard of to see codes on tombstones, thus allowing smartphone users to read a full biography of the deceased.

Despite their popularity abroad, and the yearly domestic calls that “This is the year of the QR code!”, the mainstream North American public has not yet embraced them.  One has to wonder if near field communication, or NFC, technology is destined to face the “QR Conundrum” or if this hotly discussed technology is truly a game-changer.

NFC has been all over the news this past week, but in case you haven’t heard about it yet, here’s a primer: Near field communication enables devices to swap information just by being in close proximity or by physically touching two devices together.  The anticipation comes in the form of its potential uses and how technologists and marketers see information exchanges taking place in years to come. 

Google, at it’s I/O conference, announced that they are looking at peer-to-peer solutions with the latest version of Android called “Ice Cream Sandwich”, promising a wide range of zero-click sharing applications.

Intuit, a financial services solution, is retooling its mobile credit card processing application using NFC.  They will enable consumers and business to leave the wallet and credit cards at home and simply touch their phones to NFC tagged stations for quick payment transfers, among other uses.

Visa too is jumping into the game with an updated payment offering using a “virtual wallet” and NFC technology.

Visa's NFC application

Image courtesy of futurepocket.com

While mobile payment is the clear front-runner in the push to mainstream NFC, there are many other uses with potential marketing implications:

  • Social check-ins can be streamlined and automated through proximity enabling controls from the device.  Not only will this allow for streamlined personal location detection, but marketers will be able to use this service to deliver a more personalized delivery of targeted ads, coupons, and check-in specials.  In addition, retail locations will be able to start tailoring specials and loyalty programs towards check-in volume and repetition.
  • Healthcare has already embraced mobile technology in its use of tablets for patient care and charting.  By enabling tablets and other devices with NFC, doctors, nurses and administrators will be able to share patient files quickly and seamlessly, in turn saving valuable time which might just save a life.
  • Travel, both air and ground, will be revolutionized with the ability to purchase tickets and check in for flights, trains and buses by simply touching your device to a tag.

The uses don’t stop there when you start to consider gaming, product inventory, and even the idea that NFC can make door and car keys obsolete – NFC car keys, or “smart keys” are already in mass production in the automotive industry.

But NFC faces various hurdles before reaching the point of full adoption.  At this point, only the Nokia N8 device is NFC enabled.  Device manufacturers, both handset and tablet, have to decide that installing the technology is worthwhile.  Researchers are optimistic that this mind-shift is already taking place.  Juniper Research predicts that by 2014, 20% of all smartphones will be NFC enabled.  Beyond the manufacturer commitment, there is the needed infrastructure investment by retailers and others who want to engage with NFC devices, as POS systems will need to be outfitted with touch point tags.

There is little doubt that the mobile technologists and production teams are going to rollout their products with NFC capabilities, but will the public embrace this new means of swapping information?  There will be a low consumer barrier to entry in the means of no apps or readers to download, a major reason for the lack of QR code adoption.  But only time will tell if users will trust this “simple as a touch” system for information transfer, especially in regards to personal finances in this age of identification theft and security breaches.

Will NFC revolutionize information sharing as social media did for communication?  Or will it slowly succumb to the “QR Conundrum”?

Josh Anisfeld specializes in social media and mobile marketing as an Account Group Supervisor at GolinHarris in Chicago.  His experience includes integrated marketing strategies, social community management, social monitoring analysis, social governance models for company employees, and social issues management.   He has also worked for Critical Mass and Edelman Digital, and in a previous (pre-digital) life, Josh served as a producer and casting associate for numerous network and cable shows, including E! Entertainment Television’s The Soup and Dr. 90210. He now enjoys a more domestic life with his wife and one-year old son in the suburbs, watering his lawn and dreaming of his next international vacation.  If you like what you read, you can follow Josh on Twitter.

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