With the press embargo on iPhone 5 lifted, we’re finally hearing about the product from people who have actually held and used it. Before that, and still after, both positive and negative media impressions have been unable to resist mentioning the bogeyman known as near field communication (NFC).
As ReadWriteWeb’s Brian Proffitt explained last week, omitting NFC is a conscious decision that can be easily reversed in the future. But unlike earlier missing iOS features like copy-and-paste, multitasking, and yes, an SDK, NFC is far from a no-brainer addition to Apple’s flagship product. Critics are stuck in the usual mud of tracking technology rather than utility.
It’s no coincidence that the “Tech Specs” link atop apple.com/iphone is dead last. Apple’s best marketing has always been about what a product does, not what it has. Forget MHz and GB and mAh — how much faster does it launch apps? Play games? Snap pictures? Load web pages? How many hours of video and talk time? These are things that anyone can not only understand, but appreciate.
Behold the NFC issue. What can people do with it today? All we hear is what they should be able to do with it someday. Search the web for “near field communication” — the 2010 articles read exactly like the 2012 articles. And boy are they wordy.
It’s not the technology that matters — it’s the utility that the technology provides. There are plenty of solutions to the mobile payments problem. NFC has not delivered, and Apple has no incentive to change that. By shipping NFC in the current climate, Apple would implicitly take responsibility for making that technology a success. That means not just building a first-class iOS experience, but working with businesses to accelerate adoption around the world.
And for what? If Apple leads this charge, rounding up vendors and merchants like it did the music companies, how much more attractive will iPhones suddenly be? On the contrary, carrying the NFC torch would likely help Android as much as iOS. If NFC does in fact take off, then Apple will add it, and the debate will be over. More low-hanging fruit off the tree. If it does not take off, then Apple remains flexible (ahead?) in solving the utility problems that this one technology failed to.
This is where Apple’s market dominance becomes so important. The truth is that NFC won’t take off without Apple — at least not nearly as quickly as it would with Apple. So the critics’ “disappointment” is in fact just a sad realization that the elusive NFC promise is at least one more year away from being kept. In the meantime, Apple keeps solving real problems it knows it can solve right now.