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What the RFID Industry Can Learn From Steve Jobs

Apple's success has been in making products that are easy to use.
By Mark Roberti
Apple simplified the interface for smart phones in 2008, with the introduction of the iPhone. Last week, the company introduced the iPhone 4S. While many expected the new phone to include Near Field Communication (NFC) technology—a short-range type of RFID—it did not. Instead, the big upgrade was in the quality of the voice-recognition software. Jobs wanted the phone to be so easy to use that you could talk to it in plane English and have it respond.

The RFID industry, by contrast, has suffered from products that are difficult to configure and use. Five years ago, most companies would offer tags or readers and leave it up to end users to figure out how to create a system utilizing them. Things have definitely improved over the years, but reader interfaces are still often clunky, and sometimes require hours spent on the telephone with tech support. RFID systems need to be far easier to set up and utilize, even if they don't need to be as elegant as consumer devices.

Anther thing RFID companies should learn from Jobs is that there needs to be a complete product. The iPod was successful not just because the hardware interface was easy to use, but also because there was a simple method for purchasing songs and adding them onto the device—namely, iTunes.

And both end users and RFID providers need to remember that RFID is a potential interface between people and technology. QR codes are great, but Jobs probably recognized their limitations immediately. A human being must open the phone's camera application, point the camera at a QR code and snap a picture. With NFC technology, a user can simply wave a phone near an NFC tag and have the phone perform a function, such as visiting a Web site.

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