NFC Forum Aims to Popularize Taps

The organization's new executive director intends to help the Near Field Communication industry make the technology consistently reliable and commonplace, with a growth plan similar to that of Bluetooth and Wi-Fi, so that users will recognize a logo and tap it without needing to know anything about NFC.
Published: December 2, 2019

The NFC Forum is taking advantage of the presence of Near Field Communication (NFC) readers in handsets and other devices—totaling two billion this year alone—to launch initiatives that expand use cases and improve the user experience. The association’s newly appointed executive director, Mike McCamon, brings a history of accomplishing the same for Bluetooth and Wi-Fi technologies. His goal, he says, is to make NFC something people simply use.

McCamon, formerly the executive director of the Bluetooth Special Interest Group, has guided wireless technology growth at numerous companies, including Apple, Intel and Iomega (Lenovo), as well as several startups. He was also the executive officer at global non-profit organization McCamon ran for a senate seat in his home state of Kansas, then retired, and has now come out of retirement to help promote NFC.

Mike McCamon

McCamon comes to the NFC Forum after a 15-year hiatus from the wireless space. “I was very involved until 2004 or 2005,” he says, before became involving in startups, non-profit organizations and politics. These days, he sees a predictable trajectory for NFC that he says looks familiar. In his new role, McCamon will offer strategic planning and direction, membership development, budgeting and evangelism in a way he has done before for Bluetooth technology. Part of his effort is a set of 2020 initiatives prioritized around the user experience.

This is a shift for the NFC Forum, which has previously focused more on specifications and business-to-business efforts. The specification work will continue, with several other goals alongside those efforts. “There’s a lot of work to be done around commercialization of the technology apart from specifications,” McCamon states. “I look at NFC as a technology with an immense amount of potential, way beyond payments and way beyond transit.” The technology is already proven, and now it just needs to go over what he describes as the “tipping point.” To accomplish this goal, he has laid out four goals.

“The number-one goal is to make sure NFC delivers a consistently positive user experience,” McCamon says. That will require NFC Forum members to undertake some research, examining consumer understanding and behavior around NFC technology, as well as work with brands that might offer NFC functionality in their products. There had been interest in NFC use from some consumer brands several years ago, he notes, but it hasn’t yet gained significant momentum, so the NFC Forum will work with those companies to understand technology-deployment challenges and ways to move beyond them.

The organization’s second goal is to improve the visual identifier for NFC scans. That means making the user experience easier and more rewarding. Currently, consumers often do not know what the NFC “tap here” logo means, which inhibits use. To address this issue, the NFC Forum plans to work with manufacturers to make the logo identifying each NFC tag, as well as its placement, more universal so that users can always find the NFC logo in order to tap their phone or card. McCamon says the NFC Forum will partner with companies to agree on visual cues to make sure the consumer marketplace knows where to tap so as to receive a response.

Third, the NFC Forum intends to further educate the marketplace, meaning those businesses building NFC into their devices or deploying those systems. Webinars and white papers will be part of that strategy, McCamon says. Finally, the organization will work on creating more specifications to enable the diversification of use cases. Enhancements to existing specs are being released this month, he adds, while other significant new specs can be expected in 2020.

In addition to these efforts, McCamon says he expects the NFC Forum to team up with existing wireless technologies that have grown in use throughout the past decade or two. Bluetooth technology, he notes, has already been available for 20 years, with Wi-Fi about 20 years as well, and NFC now reaching its 15th birthday. “What we need to do,” he states, “is work together across all these three technologies to improve user experience. The unique value NFC has is the tap-to-authenticate feature. So we want to hone in on making that a really great experience,” which could augment other solutions that use Wi-Fi, Bluetooth or both technologies.

“What we have today is a fragmented user experience marketplace,” McCamon reports. These mature technologies can coexist, he says, in order to further improve the consumer experience. “There are some logical opportunities for me uniquely to build some bridges,” he states, since he already has experience with Bluetooth and Wi-Fi technologies.

As wireless technology is introduced, McCamon explains, it needs to follow a path that can lead to universal adoption, or a lack of traction. The systems being developed reach a level of maturity at which commercializing solutions and building use cases becomes the challenge, he says, adding, “I see NFC as a technology with immense potential.”

The technology is currently in the hands of most people who carry a smartphone, and it is more commonly deployed in some countries than in others. McCamon cites Japan, where those who ride trains are accustomed to tapping their phones against a reader to pay for each ride. Deployments like this are rare in North America, however. That, in part, is due to American consumers’ behaviors being centered around credit cards.

The NFC Forum wants to see consumers accept the “tapping” process without needing to know much about the technology behind each tap. “If I know there’s a logo and, if I tap my phone, it works, that’s all I need,” McCamon says. Whether or not shoppers are familiar with the acronym “NFC” is beside the point, he adds. “Success looks like my neighbors understanding how secure and convenient it is to tap their phone against a logo.”

Down the road, McCamon anticipates finding ways in which to help people in the developing world with NFC technology use. Smartphone usage has become commonplace in the developing world, and companies are beginning to take advantage of the intelligence built into phones to bring services to remote locations. “If you can create use cases that are useful to people in India and China and the third world,” McCamon maintains, “you can improve lives for millions.” At this point in his career, he says, he takes on a project because he believes he can provide help. “I don’t do things because I have to.”

According to a 2019 study conducted by ABI Research, there will be 10 billion NFC tags n 2023, growing from four billion last year. In most cases, the analyst company found, the technology is being rolled out for payment and ticketing applications.