The next big thing may be the use of near-field communications as a platform for e-wallets (which are also known as "mobile wallets"). This is a big deal simply because plastic-credit or debit cards-is used for trillions of dollars in transactions. The transfer of even a chunk of this business to smartphones could make other initiatives look like chump change.
I've written a bit about this over the past couple of months, including <strong>a feature</strong>, an interview with Kony Solution's David Eads and a related post. The hype is continuing: Everybody understands that the sector will go nowhere unless the right companies step up to harness the technology, so any piece of news is treated as a validation or repudiation of the concept and its potential.
A couple of important players have stepped up this week, but folks are still waiting for Apple, which is seen as the linchpin, to make its move. (There was some news, of a minor nature, on this front as well.) The biggest news is that Sprint plans to roll out an NFC-based payment system. Bloomberg reports that the carrier aims to start operations this year and thereby sneak in ahead of Isis, another telco-based NFC e-wallet initiative. That partnership features Verizon Wireless, AT&T and T-Mobile.
Amazon also is said ready to get involved. This makes sense, since a big issue beyond the technology is access to customer data. Companies such as Amazon, Google, Apple, Microsoft and a few others have tremendous information assets that can be used. It's worth noting-as Tom's Guide does-that the precise ways in which NFC will be monetized aren't set, which makes having access to as much information as possible vital:
While rumors regarding Apple, Google and Microsoft's individual plans revealed certain details about how each of the companies plan to make money from mobile payments -- Apple is said to be starting a loyalty program, and Google will sell targeted advertisements and discounts to merchants -- Amazon is said to be looking into a few different marketing-services. One of the possibilities is the ability to find additional stock on Amazon if, for example, the store you're in does not have your own size in stock. This would be done by tapping your phone against an item's NFC tag to locate it on Amazon.
The nascent industry is still waiting on Apple, both for inclusion of the technology in the next iPhone and to see how it harnesses the App Store. A few months ago, it was thought certain that Apple would jump in this year. While it doesn't seem likely that Apple will entirely bypass the market, there are hints that the company may indeed make the move this summer. Nothing is certain, however.
Geeky Gadgets links to a report at Patently Apple that says Apple is filing for trademarks on financial transactions including "credit card transactions and services as well as electronic cash transactions." The site suggests that the company has something up its sleeve concerning iTunes, the iPhone and NFC.