The World According to ME: Apple and NFC? It's the shops, stupid | Mobile Devices | Mobile Entertainment

The World According to ME: Apple and NFC? It's the shops, stupid

The World According to ME: Apple and NFC? It's the shops, stupid
Tim Green


Devices / iPhone / September 14th 2012 at 3:03PM

Apple has proved in its own stores that you don't need contactless to speed up shopping. So why would it rush into NFC?

Well, didn't we all get sweaty over Apple's revolutionary new 'slightly larger' iPhone this week?

The addition of more iWidth an extra iLength along with the controversial decision to cut back on iDepth certainly showed Apple at its disruptive best.

But the most commented-upon element of the launch was undoubtedbly the lack of NFC.

I'm still a bit surprised that the omission promoted so much comment. If you step outside the cosy confines of the tech community (frightening, I know; there are feature phone users out there), you'll struggle to find anyone who knows or cares about NFC.

The tech just isn't being used. Not yet.

I'm lucky enough to have a Galaxy III with Visa app and I pay with it nearly every day. It's easy to use, although scarcely easier than cash or contactless card to be honest.

But the truth is, in the smallish town where ME lives, there is just one cafe that accepts contactless. Starbucks? Costa? Neither of them have NFC readers.

And in the Cafe Nero that does accept contactless, well hardly anyone else pays with an NFC card. I know. They've told me.

So why should Apple rush to embrace a tech that is being used by a tiny section of the population in a tiny section of the high street?

As usual, the tech community is seeing the world through the prism of its own obsessions.

I think there's another reason why Apple doesn't fancy NFC yet, one that centres on vanity and branding. Apple's leadership status is so overwhelming that its very absence from the NFC 'universe' makes NFC seem a left-field minority tech.

This suits Apple because it makes it harder for Google Wallet, Isis et al to make progress. The latters' NFC apps will always struggle when the most active and engaged smartphone users in the market simply can't run them.

Were Apple to build in NFC, it would legitimise the tech and, in the process, look like it was late to the party. It will be fascinating to see how the firm handles this from a PR perspective when the day comes.

And what will make that day come?

Well, I reckon one of the most consistently overlooked facets of the mobile payments revolution is how it can change the nature of retailing by letting the shop assistant come to the shopper.

It's all very well saving a few seconds by touching to pay at the counter. But why have a counter at all?

A small number of stores are already investigating this idea. They're doing so because of the millions of sales that must be lost when jaded and fatigued shoppers (ie: me) see the long queue and decide reluctantly to put their underpants back.

Disney and Urban Outfitters are trialling different solutions. And giant US chain JC Penney has pledged to eradicate tills by 2014 – a controversial move pioneered by Penney CEO Ron Johnson, who was previously the head of Apple Retail.

While at Apple, Johnson pioneered the use of alternatives to the till. As most ME readers will know, it's rare to pay at a counter in an Apple store. Instead, the assistants come to you.

And you can even pay without any help from the staff at all by using the Apple Store App, scanning the barcode of your product, and then paying through your iTunes account.

To me, these are the most radical and successful of all innovations made by Apple retail – far more interesting than the marble floor or the help teams.

And, of course, none of them require NFC.

So will Apple ever support the tech? I think it will eventually, and the best place to see it in use will be inside one of Apple's own stores.

When that day comes, go down and check it out – if you can get past the queue of Isis execs with notepads and camera phones.