NEW YORK (MainStreet) — Apple is the only major player in the smartphone market that does not offer consumers at least one model with a near field communications chip. The big question is why Apple is skipping out on a feature offered by its biggest competition, leaving it absent from the iPhone 5 and leaving its Passbook mobile wallet without the NFC capability?
NFC chips, quite simply, allow devices to create a connection and transfer a small amount of data over a very short distance. This distance, usually measured in millimeters or centimeters, means that near field contact has to be very close. For the time being, the near field chips most end users will be familiar with are the ones inside your debit card, as near field technology is often used for swipeless payment systems.
As you can imagine, this makes security in NFC transactions paramount. Sadly, this may be one of the barriers to Apple adopting the technology with the same zeal as Google. Bryan Leeds, the co-founder of Xsync, a mobile document sharing company, believes security to be the major inhibition.
“My team and I believe that Apple isn't using NFC because it’s unproven and not secure," he said. "Apple is never the first mover with new technology. They see how tech develops in the market and then makes it better. Google Wallet has not gone well, to say the least.”
Security issues on this platform stem not only from the traditional types of attacks common to any wireless network but also the security issues that are inherent to all mobile devices. Add to that the fact that some platforms allow users to generate their own near field tags, and that some tags can be activated passively. Quickly, it's clear to see how NFC faces challenges.
Of course security is not an insurmountable problem, and after a while all wireless systems manage to strike a balance between usability and security, even when sensitive information is involved. For the time being Apple is keeping mum in the face of requests for comment as to why NFC is not in any of the current iPhones, but Nikhil Bobb a former file system engineer at Apple was willing to comment on the company’s attitude toward adopting technologies and why NFC may be a lot like 3G for Apple.
“Time and time again, Apple has lagged behind the vanguard of the industry in adopting the next big thing," Bobb said. "NFC does not work well yet. The NFC credit card I have does not work 80% of the time when I try and use it. In most stores the clerks automatically ask me to hand them my card when they see me waving it in front of the NFC tag reader." Apple's late-to-the-party approach to emerging technology mirrors its decision not to include 3G on the iPhone 1, because the battery life of 3G chips was not acceptable for the Apple user experience.
The final factor that explains why the iPhone 5 is not sporting an NFC chip may simply be cost. A single NFC controller cost about $5 a unit when Apple was getting ready to manufacture the iPhone 5, which would have added an estimated $125 million to the company's costs. Add to that the fact that Apple's current phone design did not have room for an NFC antenna and anyone can see how a redesign could have been a costly maneuver.
So will an NFC chip show up in the next version of the iPhone? Unless the security problems can be solved and users show a real interest in the technology, iPhones won’t be near field enabled anytime soon.
See also: Apple Roundup: Macs, Passbook