December 2010

Android Delivers NFC this Christmas

Android Delivers NFC this Christmas

This month, NXP Semiconductors and Google announced a strategic collaboration to provide a complete open source software stack for Near Field Communications (NFC).

Google's latest Android mobile operating system codenamed Gingerbread will feature the NFC software stack. The search giant will use Gingerbread (Android 2.3) on its latest phone - the Nexus S, which will feature NXP's NFC hardware (PN544 controller). Designed and developed by Samsung, the Nexus S will be the first widely available NFC phone. Mobile phone retailer Car Phone Warehouse will provide the phones on Vodafone, O2 & Orange contracts in the UK from the 20th December.

To note: NFC (Near Field Communication) is a simple extension of the ISO/IEC 14443 contactless card standard. NFC devices can communication up to a distance of 10 centimetres with other NFC devices, contactless card and passive RFID tags and stickers.

Android Delivers NFC

The Cartes & Identification and Mobile World Congress annual events have exhibited NFC technology for quite a few years now and back in 2008 the NFC Forum predicted that 500 million phones will have NFC by 2011. Philippe Tartavull (CEO of Hypercom) blamed the recession for hampering development of contactless technology.

Android Inc. developed "Android" as a mobile operating system or a mobile platform that controls a mobile device just like operating systems such as Windows, Mac OS or Linux controls desktop computer or a laptop.

Google purchased the company Android Inc. in 2005, and along with the "Open Handset Alliance", a group of 78 hardware, software and telecom companies are working towards upgrading open standards for mobile devices, and started further development of Android.

Android OS for smartphones was first released in 2008 by Google. The software suite on the smartphone included the search giant's very own applications such as Maps, Calendar, and Gmail as well as a full HTML web browser.

The Nielsen Company research revealed that new smartphone subscribers choosing Google phones in US accounted for 27% of total U.S.A smartphone sale. Worldwide 2010 third quarter market share of Android OS smartphones was 43.6%.

The article entitled "Mobile Wars - Apple versus the World" in last month's newsletter shows us that Android has already overtaken Apple's iPhone (iOS) as well as RIM's Blackberry in terms of sales and market share.

So what can we do with Google's new NFC phone? Google have stated that "with NXP's contribution, the introduction of NFC in Android provides developers, service providers, and device manufacturers a game-changing opportunity to deliver new services while enabling users to interact with each other and the physical world in ways previously not possible".

NXP Semiconductors announcement contributed: "Today, NFC offers consumers a high level of convenience, interactivity and security with their mobile devices, and further enhances their smartphone experiences by linking the virtual world of applications with the physical environment".

NXP has also explained how the unique "touch" feature of NFC will enable easy exchange of data, and connect to a large installed base of reader and tag infrastructures. NFC technology in Nexus S will enable the smartphone to read NFC tags that are embedded on objects such as t-shirts, posters and other everyday commodities, allowing the device to work both as a reader and a transmitter.

Both Google and NXP's websites and press material fail to give any specific areas of application for NFC in the Nexus S smartphones. It would appear from Google's and NXP's statements that they are hoping for the innovative software developers to come up with the ideas for NFC to succeed.

At the Web 2.0 Summit held in San Francisco on November 15-17 this year, RIM CEO, Jim Balsillie said, "We will be fools not to have it in our future products. And we are not fools". ('It' refers to NFC) RIM was said to form a group with AT & T, T-Mobile and Verizon to offer NFC services soon on their latest version of BlackBerrys.

Even in news published last month, Apple was said to apparently add NFC in its iPhone 5. NFC-added iPhone will let users 'swipe' their phones over a payment terminal in order to pay for small purchases. Although NFC in iPhone 5 have been rumoured for quite some time, an unnamed source claimed that Apple is actually looking to "offer those that own both an iPhone 5 and a Mac OS X-equipped laptop or desktop an interesting customisation feature".

Nokia recently confirmed that its already released C7 mobile phone contains an undocumented NFC chip. NFC capability will be 'switched-on' with a firmware upgrade due to be released in 2011. Nokia has also failed to mention what the general public will do with it once they have the upgrade.

Android Delivers NFC

As early as in December 2007, Visa Europe, Transport for London, TranSys, Barclaycard, Nokia and AEG announced the 'O2 Wallet' trial in London. The 'O2 Wallet' was an application to bring together Oyster, Visa Pay-Wave and contactless ticketing on the now defunct Nokia 6131 NFC mobile phone. The first phase of the trial span November to February with 225 participants. However, no successive developments happened thereafter.

Telecom Italia began NFC trails on mobile phones in 2008, only to scrap the idea of payment over NFC in favour of a simple text message. In 2009, GSMA (GSM Association) boldly predicted that by mid-2009 full NFC functionality, including the standardised 'Single Wire Protocol' interface would be built into commercially available handsets. The 'Single Wire Protocol' standard would provide interface (known as the host controller) between the SIM and the NFC chip embedded in the handset.

However, 2010 has nearly gone, and we are only now seeing a widely available NFC handset entering the marketplace.

With Google and NXP Semiconductors joining hands to launch NFC stack in Android smartphones, could this be the trigger to general adoption of NFC technology and a NFC tag infrastructure.

The Nexus S will be available to purchase on the 20th December for £549 from the Carphone Warehouse and Best Buy stores.

Suparna Sen, Smartcard & Identity News


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Video Interviews

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Dominique Brule of Philips Semiconductors talks about Near Field Communication