Apple Eschews NFC

The iPhone 5 has a number of new features, but Near Field Communication is not one of them.
Published: October 3, 2012

Fans of Apple gadgetry have eagerly awaited the iPhone 5, the latest incarnation of its device that changed how people interact with their mobile phones. Many of us in the radio frequency identification industry have been hoping the new phone would be equipped with Near Field Communication (NFC) technology, a short-range form of RFID that can be used for payments, social networking and other applications. Yesterday, Apple CEO Tim Cook unveiled the iPhone 5—and it doesn’t include NFC. Too bad.

I was pretty sure it wouldn’t. One reason is that few, if any, of the rumors about the iPhone 5 suggested such functionality would be included. Another is that Apple incorporated a bar-code-based Passbook application for mobile payments in its IOS 6 operating system. And my sources at Apple and NFC reader chipmakers, while not breaching confidentiality, led me to believe I should not get my hopes up about NFC.

Given that Samsung, Apple’s largest competitor in the smartphone market, is embracing NFC—not to mention Nokia, Microsoft, Motorola and others—it’s worth asking why Apple is eschewing the technology. An Apple executive told an interviewer, after the iPhone 5’s launch, “It’s not clear that NFC is the solution to any current problem,” adding, “Passbook does the kinds of things customers need today.”

I think there are two possible reasons the iPhone 5 does not include NFC capabilities. One is that there was no room in the ultra-thin case for another chip. Apple was forced to shrink the port for charging the device in order to fit everything in, much to the consternation of some Apple watchers. (I find it difficult to believe that Apple devotees are going to care very much that they have to buy some new cables or an adapter.)

I don’t think this is the real reason, though clearly space inside the phone is at a premium. I think Apple simply doesn’t want to put an NFC chip in the device and have no one use it, because there are relatively few retailers that currently accept NFC payments, and relatively few applications for the technology. Apple is creating a mobile-wallet strategy that includes signing up retailers and working with credit-card companies. Its goal will be to introduce a complete solution that is embraced by the parties that need to be onboard before phone-based mobile payments take off.

The thing to remember is that Apple has never felt the need to rush to be first. It came late to the MP3 market, the phone market and the tablet market, and it now dominates all of them. The company is more interested in developing a complete solution that will immediately deliver a great deal of value to users. I see Passbook evolving over time and eventually incorporating NFC, so while I plan to upgrade my iPhone 4S to an iPhone 5, I will eagerly wait to see if the iPhone 6 includes NFC functionality.

Mark Roberti is the founder and editor of RFID Journal. If you would like to comment on this article, click on the link below. To read more of Mark’s opinions, visit the RFID Journal Blog, the Editor’s Note archive or RFID Connect.