NFC on Android goes nowhere in 2011

Exactly one year ago, an article on TechCrunch discussed the potential for Apple to dominate mobile payments, specifically using NFC. Since then, not much has changed.

While Apple didn't talk about retail payments at all last year, Google did rush to launch an unfinished "Wallet" in anticipation of a similar announcement by Apple that never came. More significantly, Android got stuck with Isis, the abomination of major carriers and credit card companies. Although they have no product, Isis had an incredibly successful 2011 sabotaging Android and holding back widespread adoption of NFC in the US.

For example, my unlocked/unsubsidised Nexus S phone can’t use Google Wallet because T-Mobile is part of Isis. Many phones have NFC hardware that has been completely disabled by AT&T because of Isis, and can’t even be used for other non-payment purposes such as contact sharing apps. Isis even managed to destroy the reputation of Google’s formerly “pure” Nexus brand.

Meanwhile transit payment systems compatible with NFC continue to be deployed around the world, and yet you can’t use your phone with almost any of them. There’s a huge potential here for mobile payments without directly involving banks and credit card companies. This was why I wrote FareBot; to demonstrate the potential of integrating NFC phones with these existing systems.

Almost a year later, FareBot only reliably works on two devices (Nexus S and Galaxy Nexus) despite hundreds of new phones on the market. As a developer who was once passionate and excited about both Android and NFC, I now feel disenchanted about both. Maybe the future payments system won’t need NFC at all?

When rumors of an iPhone 5 were buzzing last year, NFC was suddenly a hot topic. But the moment Apple announced the “disappointing” iPhone 4S, interest quickly vanished. The rest of the electronics took a step back leaving Apple a golden ticket to once again dominate a new market.

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