Google’s Nexus S stokes fire of competition with NFC


Imagine being able to enter your locked office by using a smartphone, or never having to queue to renew an Oystercard – or even having an Oystercard.

Imagine the billing being done through the device, and the payment being taken care of through the handset too. No need to fiddle with change, or feed meters, or carry cards, or cash.

We’ve moved a step nearer that world with the release of the flagship Android phone from Google, the Nexus S, which I laid hands on earlier this week.

While its credentials as an iPhone challenger are impressive it’s the inclusion of Near Field Communications technology that is especially interesting.

NFC opens the door to mobile ticketing, mobile payment, even mobile ID and the Nexus S is the first Android handset to support the technology.

It also opens the door to some significant security issues which have been exercising cryptographers and, until now, have delayed its introduction.

Having NFC in the device isn’t much use on its own and it’s anyone’s guess as to Google’s ultimate intentions, but it does show direction of travel for the technology.

One suggestion is that it ties in with Google’s roll-out of Hotpot – a local recommendation engine that works with Google Places. Window stickers in the Hotpot business kits come with built-in NFC for potential rating and recommendation feedback.

That on its own isn’t enough to justify its incorporation and it’s why the rumour mill is rife that it heralds a move by Google into “pay-by-wave” mobile commerce.

If true, it begs the question: How will competitors respond

Well, Nokia has said NFC will be built into all its high-end smartphones from this year. RIM is considering it for Blackberry, Orange is introducing it to Europe and three US operators have already banded together under the brand name of Isis.

Speed of adoption will depend partly on assurances about security and privacy but also on how NFC is carved up. Telcos and handset manufacturers are keen for a piece of the action and that could play into Apple’s hands with its walled garden approach.

This has a wider resonance for companies even if NFC transactions aren’t on their immediate horizon. It  matters because it’s an important milestone in the evolution of mobile – one that will cement its position as the primary technology – and as part of a wider revolution in the way we receive and act on information.

Google is already a “mobile first” company. It sees the future of computing as mobile. And for CEO Eric Schmidt it means putting his best people on mobile.

Google is already exploring the complexities of location and context in delivering filtered information. The goal is relevance.

It’s why, before you’ve finished entering a search term, Google will have anticipated what you might want.

Start typing the word museum and you’ll get a different outcome depending on where you are.

In news organisations we need to think a lot harder about relevance and move away from treating everyone as if their needs are identical. They’re not. And we need to start thinking about increasing the effort and commitment that goes into mobile services.


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