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Google Brings RFID-enabled Hotpot to Portland, Austin

The projects allow businesses to use Near Field Communication RFID technology to provide data about their services and products to customers on the street carrying NFC-enabled phones.
By Claire Swedberg
Portland businesses were invited to sign up for Place Page account, after which they could receive a free Hotpot kit that includes an NFC-enabled tag that printed with the words "Recommended on Google," as well as the Google Places logo. The kit also includes marketing items such as coffee stirrers and fortune cookies adorned with the Google logo. The participating company then attaches the NFC-enabled sticker on a door or window, where passersby can see it. If a pedestrian wishes to access data about a business, and is carrying an NFC-enabled phone, he holds the phone within a few centimeters of the tag.

Consumers who do not own an NFC-enabled phone—which is currently the large majority of the population—can access that same data via the free Google Mobile app, which can be installed on a variety of Internet-enabled handsets, as well as Apple's iPad. Using the Google Mobile app, however, may require clicking on several prompts, while the NFC option would need simply a tap against the sticker, says Aguero. "We see NFC as such an interesting and up-and-coming technology," he explains. "It's a really easy way for consumers to access information." In the meantime, consumers could also use the Google Mobile app to access a company's Place Page by keying in the ID number printed on its Google sticker.

By mid-February Google had sent nearly 10,000 Hotpot kits to businesses in Portland, although Aguero says his company does not know how many of those stickers have been attached to the fronts of stores. He says the city program has resulted in NFC "clicks" on tags, but decline to indicate the number of those events. "We're very happy with where Portland is with the program," Aguero comments.

Based on the interest generated by the Portland Hotpot program, Google took the technology to Texas this month. In Austin, where the system was launched on Feb. 11, thousands of businesses are expected to attach Google NFC-enabled stickers to their doorways and windows.

Both Austin and Portland, Aguero says, are "tech-savvy, forward-looking cities" with a dense population of businesses in the city centers. "They have a good demographic for starting new, innovative things—an embracing attitude."

One of the city's residents who agrees with that assessment is Rebecca Martin, senior VP of marketing for the Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce. "We were really happy to get the call from Google," says Martin, who notes that social networking is playing an increasing role in the marketing of small businesses. "We are a tech-savvy hub for developments such as these," she says. "This [the RFID-enabled Hotpot service] is one of those new trends we think will benefit our small-businesses space." She adds that the chamber of commerce has been receiving calls from companies interested in learning more about the program, in the days following its announcement in a Google blog.

Google intends to continue offering the RFID-enabled Hotpot kits to targeted business districts throughout the United States, Aguero says, although the company has made no decision yet as to where those deployments would take place in the near future.

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