Apple and NFC

Apple and NFC..

Nothing really new here for the NFC crowd. No new information..  Purpose is to paint a picture by which investors can make a call.

Most of the issues associated with NFC today are NOT technical.. but rather business: What value can it bring? Who controls it? Who makes the money? How is it shared? For payments… NFC has been a complete bust (with the exception of Asia). Retailers just aren’t excited about the prospect of paying credit card interchange (3.5%) for the privilege of accepting a mobile payment which funds a 12 party supply chain  (necessary to make NFC work).

The WSJ (July 6, 2012) and I both have consistent information that Apple will NOT be rolling out NFC in the iPhone 5. If true, I believe Apple’s exec team is taking a brilliant approach to be a late follower here. Let everyone else pay the freight to educate the customer, and establish a high level retailer POS value proposition (with associated retail infrastructure). Apple is much better positioned to extend the App Store experience into mCommerce.. and control the customer end-end experience. Apple will also likely expand “selectively” into physical commerce areas like ticketing.

To be clear, I’m not positioning that Apple has run away from NFC.. but there has been no success to date and there is no reason for Apple to run into this space. In order to monetize and sort of physical POS solution, Apple must have a business structure that can orchestrate a very complex “physical commerce” value proposition. Keep in mind Apple doesn’t have much of a sales force to cover advertisers AND retailers globally. Rather than “focus” on the POS, or implementing standard NFC chipsets, I see Apple doing something “unique”… What is it?

I was meeting with senior NFC execs this week, and the consensus view is that Apple will likely redefine phone hardware architecture.  Most of you have read about Apple’s recent patent application which would allow the SIM to be logically placed within the SE. Also there are rumors about expanding the capabilities of the Radio and Controller to also cover Bluetooth functionality. The “value” that an integrated hardware solution? Not that much different than what NFC alone is capable of.. but it would greatly reduce footprint, power, time, and perhaps even expand “throughput” (example Accelerating/bypassing BT pairing: NFC is  424kb/s while Bluetooth V2.1 is 2.1 Mbit/s).

Although far from being an expert in this area, my summary view is that Apple recognizes the need for a secure radio and data store in the device that it can control.  A metaphore for an ID.  How do they want to control this ID? Well they certainly need to secure the wallet access (AuthenTec $356M last week, plus rumored IRIS scanning).

This approach is opposed to that of the carriers all of which are working very hard to “standardize” on an NFC architecture (Single Wire Protocol – SWP) that they will control. Apple’s plans are firmly in the opposite direction, and a brilliant business move. Giving carriers the control over this utility would be akin to letting them run an app store that they control.

Apple may be running much faster than anyone in the industry knows toward this vision. Perhaps they have already indigenously created this new combined secure element/UICC/BT Radio. Although I see no need for them to run with this early… But if they did create this capability in the iPhone 5 they will certainly have the control to govern how it is used.

What does this means for investors? Perhaps you start by asking Vivotech’s .. as they just folded up shop after 12 years. A fantastic team with a rock solid product line.. their fault? Betting  NFC would take off sooner.  Given Apple’s unique ability to capture mobile ecosystem profits it is always tough to find areas to nibble.  On the software side, how can new companies help Apple orchestrate value propositions in the physical world? Retail? Ticketing? Healthcare?.. The times.. they are a changin…

6 thoughts on “Apple and NFC

  1. Great article, Tom! What’s your view on Apple’s ability to – single-handedly – win POS game with BT (i.e. something which the well- funded and large NFC “gang” failed to do – they say, for example, that Vivotech controlled 80% of the NFC POS market)?..

    • The key question here is: for what purpose? advertising is much more lucrative than payments. Could you use BT for ads? for payments? for in store shopping “experience”? There is a physical retailer value problem.. who can help them? NFC payments does nothing here. NFC coupons are also laughable… the problem is not “storage” of electronic incentives.. it is distribution.. finding customers WHERE THEY ARE.. not where you want them to be. Customers just don’t walk around a store staring at their phones looking for deals. Neither will they thumb through a digital wallet containing 1000s of incentives (offers) that are not 90%+ relevant (When was the last time you clicked on a banner ad?)

      Now I would love to buy a ticket and store it in the phone.. or a hotel room with no stop at the front desk… I don’t even know what to label this kind of interaction. mCommerce? mTicketing? mStuff? The ability to share a word document, or picture by just touching phones, how about a digital signature on a physical document? or a physical signature on a digital document?… or use a printer in the office without pairing.. Forget about payments.. far too much focus here.. far too few problems… and very little margin. Much bigger opportunities out there.

      • I agree with your point of view. The question then becomes: if it’s not (mainly) about payments, why does Apple pay so much attention to “secure element” and, especially, control of it? You surely don’t need SE to do targeted (instore or otherwise) marketing etc…

        • 1) authentication, 2) control over the radio(s)

          Per #1 ..Voice print, iris scan, finger print, key FOB.. preferably something you have, something you are and something you know. There is an advantage to keeping some of this data locally for speed…. and one form of authentication.

          Per #2 .. this is why MNOs have SIMs.. if you have solid authentication, why not remotely provision network access? It also is imperative to ensure that there is a mechanism to provision secure access to the radio directly, for example this is necessary for PCI compliance.. to ensure you know the sender and to secure the package. For Marketing… knowing who you are will drive what kind of offers you get.. probably not a strong case for encryption.. but there is a great need for identity (as opposed to authentication). In the identity case you may not want “everyone” to know who you are. In this case consumers need to know “who is asking” and in this case the need for authentication is reversed.

  2. ID vs authentication: I take it you agree with Dave Birch there (he references you for sure) – he covered that subject at TED.

    One approach could be to split ID and POI (I.e. one does not have to ID/authenticate constantly, even for payments), e.g. “check in” when coming into a store, but that’s off-topic deviation.

    It would be interesting to see what ISIS comes up with, especially in the view of EMV push in the USA…

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