Apple Unlocks Another Piece of NFC – Enabling Read Operating Mode

There’s exciting news for the NFC ecosystem! The iPhone 7, 7+  as well as the Apple watch, will be christened with NFC tag readability when iOS 11 and Watch OS 4 releases in the fall of 2017. For those active in the ecosystem, it is evident why this turn of events is encouraging for unlocking NFC’s full potential in US markets. But if you’re wondering what the big deal is, here’s some background that will explain the enthusiasm.

For starters, Near Field Communication (NFC) is the short-range wireless connectivity technology that enables the Internet of Things. NFC tags are passive devices used to communicate with active NFC devices. They can be deployed on physical items, which makes for really cool interactions. NFC tags can be programmed and embedded in business cards, smart posters, stickers, wrist bands, clothing and promotional materials. They are extremely useful in the distribution of information and the promotion of products and services. They can also launch tasks, preform configurations, and initiate apps when being tapped by an NFC-enabled device. Unfortunately, the stunted growth of the NFC market has limited our access to the possibility IoT brings. That’s why this shift in Apple’s policy yields promise on the horizon.

Although iPhone 6 and 6+ have been NFC-enabled since 2014, the NFC capability of these devices has been intentionally limited by the company. Meaning that while all other NFC smart phones have been able to exchange data at a short distance as well as read and write information on NFC tags for years, the only NFC functionality accessible to Apple consumers up until this point has been Apple Pay, the company’s proprietary mobile payment application.

How much impact can one company’s adoption have? Let’s look at it this way: Apple shipped 231.5 million iPhones globally in 2015 and 216.4 million in 2016. This is a leading portion of the smart phone market. The impact of limited functionality from iPhone devices sent ripples across the NFC ecosystem. Conversely, Apple’s new inclusion of NFC tag readability in its 2017 updates will open up a new possibility for this technology with many use cases. I’m very excited to see what unfolds in the future.

Is NFC (Near Field Communication) Dead?

Editorial note: This article appeared in Linkedin on December 7th, 2016

I recently had coffee with a friend whom I hadn’t seen for a while. We chatted about our lives and work. He told me about the Internet of Thing (IOT) product he is marketing, and asked what I was up to. When I told him I was working on the 3rd edition of my “Everyday NFC” book, his next question astounded me: “Isn’t  NFC dead?” Surprised, I looked at him and reassured him it was not, and that I was committed to publishing my book soon. Part of my urgency in doing so is to correct such misunderstandings.

My friend is not alone in his assumption. Even in the technology field, many are clueless about NFC’s many applications in IoT and beyond. Not only is NFC alive, it is a widely used enabler that connects objects to  the Internet. IoT doesn’t exist without smart sensors. As Business Insider pointed out in their article entitled  21 technology tipping points we will reach by 2030 , “1 trillion sensors will be connected to the internet in 2022.” NFC will play a critical role in this process.

What is NFC? NFC is based on RFID technology. It is a technology that enables wireless data transfer in close proximity without the need for internet connection. NFC sensors can be integrated into devices and wearable in many fields. NFC Forum was established in 2004 and leads the effort for the unification of the NFC ecosystem. More than 140 companies are members of the NFC Forum.

NFC Forum has been promoting the relationship of NFC and IoT: “With 38.5 billion connected devices expected by 2020 and over one billion NFC-enabled devices already in the market, NFC is playing a key role in making the Internet of Things a working reality.”

Not only does NFC enable IoT, it plays an essential role in Industry 4.0 (Industry internet) to facilitate connectivity in smart factory manufacturing. The low cost of NFC tags can help identify items, tracking them, and even reflect on their conditions.  For example, the wine industry is using NFC tags to authenticate wine bottles in order to exercise brand protection.

The possibilities of NFC are endless; it is quite alive and thriving!

Keyword Trends – NFC vs IoT

** This blog was originally posted in LinkedIn on March 17th, 2016

In March 2015, I posted an article on the NFC Mobile Payment Trend in order to discuss the NFC Mobile Payment movement. Today, I did another trend analysis and want to share the data and insights.

It looks like “NFC/Near Field Communication” is still an interest and India is still the number one place that is interested in the technology. A search for “Mobile Payment” remains flat and the “Apply Pay” search went down after the initial launch in November 2014. To show the relative interest, I plugged in “IoT”. You can see that interest is picking up after 2015 but I am surprised to see the search trend is relatively low vs NFC.

India’s strong interest in NFC is not surprising. When you have a chance to read my post on “NFC In Action in an IoT World”, you would learn that NFC is making a huge difference in rural areas of India and saving children’s lives with the application of the Khushi baby (KB) necklace.

This insight encourages me to update my book, “Everyday NFC: Near Field Communication Explained”, to the 3rd edition since the interest remains high and NFC enables tons of connectivity in the IoT world. Please let me know if you have any NFC product or service to share with me and my readers.

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A Smart Lock – NFC enabled Secure Access Control

** This blog was originally posted in the LinkedIn on March 1st, 2016

In February, I stayed at the Best Western Hotel twice; once in Vancouver BC and once in Denver. In BC, I noticed that I was given a chip card to unlock my hotel door by tapping the lock. In Denver, “ASSA ABLOY” was printed on my Best Western chip card so it became clear to me that Best Western has adopted the NFC technology from Assa Abloy.

Assa Abloy has been the leader for door opening solutions. The newer technology has been moving from using NFC chip smart cards to mobile keys; i.e. using your mobile phone to unlock the room with either Bluetooth or Near Field Communication (NFC) technology. NFC is a wireless protocol that transmits data within a 4 cm distance vs Bluetooth that transmits data within 32 ft.

Taiwan has deployed NFC chip cards for accessing buildings and homes. They are named “感應卡”i.e. “induction card” in direct translation but “proximity card” in real application. With Asia’s rapid adoption of NFC, this is not surprising to see a more wide usage of NFC locks and NFC chip cards replacing actual keys. It’s more environmental friendly and cost effective.

The disadvantage of using a proximity card is that it’s still another “thing” to carry around; even though it replaces keys. In order to use our phones to unlock the door lock, an infrastructure needs to be in place to sync the “key” in the phone and a door lock. That infrastructure can be simple or complex based on the applications. For hotels, the frequency of changing a mobile key will require a more sophisticated platform to be in place. A few companies are providing the solutions; for example: Assa Abloy, HID. This falls into NFC secure access control” category.

Today, the main block for deploying a mobile key is Apple’s lock on its NFC connectivity. Newer Apple mobile devices are all equipped with NFC but access is not open to public. You can enable NFC functionality from Settings on Windows or Android phones but not iPhones. Over 57 million of Apple devices (iPhones + iPad) were sold in Q4, 2015. Without Apple’s support, the future of mobile key will not be well positioned in the mass market.

Hopefully, this post has introduced you some new knowledge and provokes some innovative thoughts. Please share with us your thoughts.

Posted in NFC

Will Wearable Help Manage Our Lives?

** This blog was originally posted at LinkedIn January 29, 2016.

Many of us count on our mobile phones to track daily tasks and make connections.  I don’t think I could operate as efficiently if I don’t have one.  During this last holiday session, I got an Apple Watch as a gift. I was not sure it would be a useful tool for me. After wearing my Apple Watch for a month, I have a new realization – wearable technology will help manage our lives even more than mobile phones.

With Apple Watch’s alerts, I stand up when I am reminded. I answer a call without having to fumble in my purse for my phone. I see texts coming in and am able to reply via voice. I work out and know exactly how many calories are burned. I can also listen to music without my phone.

My daughter brings Apple Watch usage to the next level. She uses it to control her iPhone for taking family pictures, and its workout tracker and pedometer function integrates easily into her existing health and fitness apps. I am starting to wonder why anyone would ever return to wearing a watch that ONLY tells time.

Apple watch utilizes a near field communication (NFC) chip which can also be used to make mobile payments.  This function opens up the mobile payment world to iPhone5 users even though their phones are not NFC-enabled.  However, awkwardly positioning your wrist over a reader in order to enable the payment does take some getting used to.

Apple Watch interacts with iPhone through Bluetooth which transmit data within 32 feet. Thus, this range is roughly how far you can leave your iPhone away from the Apple Watch. Although the watch loses a lot of its functionality when it gets too far from my iPhone, it is still convenient not being entirely glued to my phone.

Do you use wearables? What are your insights about them? paring

NFC in Action in IoT World

KBNFCNear field Communication (NFC) is a technology similar to Wi-Fi and Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE). At the same time, it’s a powerful enabler. The nature of proximity connectivity realizes the potential of an Internet of Things (IoT). Khushi Baby is one example of the impact such products can make on the world.

Traditionally, haala khaago black thread is worn by Indian children for protecting them from the evil eye. The Khushi baby (KB) necklace is designed based on this tradition. However, the KB is also embedded with an NFC chip that can be scanned by health care providers with a mobile app in a cell phone to obtain the wearer’s immunization record. What is the significance of this technological addition that costs less than a dollar?

Over 1.5 million children die from vaccine-preventable disease each year. In under-developed countries, especially in isolated rural areas, a major barrier to healthcare and immunization provision is tracking health records.  With KB, a child’s data is synced to a cloud database and can be transformed into insights to be acted upon.  Currently, thousands of children are benefitting from simple and inexpensive this innovation.

Another example of NFC in action is the adoption by chip makers. Texas Instruments (TI) is marketing a new NFC-enabled transponder targeted at automotive infotainment apps. The RF430CL330H-Q1 is an NFC Tag Type 4 device that combines a wireless NFC interface and a wired SPI or I2C interface to connect the device to a host.  With a tap, the NFC interface enables end equipment to communicate with the infrastructure of NFC-enabled smart phones, tablets, and notebooks. It’s a path to IoT.

NFC will continue to serve as a powerful contributor to the IoT world. Vision and innovation will be the main driving force.  From rural healthcare to transportation and more, continued creativity and development will unlock worlds of potential for the future.

The Mobile Wallet Showdown: What’s Your Pick?

NFC technology has gained some strength in the mobile wallet arena since Apple released Apple Pay in October 2014 in USA. AppleWatch was released in April, and it supports Apple Pay when paired with an iPhone.

Globally, not only was Apple Pay launched in the UK in July 14, 2015, it also took a step into the Chinese market on June 10 by registering as an entity in the Shanghai free-trade zone. With Alipay, Apple’s main competitor in this market, already clocking over 400 million registered users, one wonders how the race will pan out between the two.

Android Pay, a successor of Google Pay was rolled out a couple of days ago. As of today, it has been downloaded over 81k times, and currently has a 3.9 star rating. Android Pay works on smartphones running Android 4.4 KitKat or newer.

Samsung Pay was released in Korea last month, and has hit 500,000 users now. It will be released in the USA on Sep 28th. Samsung’s smartwatch, Gear S2, will support Samsung Pay in November. Samsung has also formed partnerships in the US and China.

What NFC mobile wallet are you using or will you use?

Seattle folks, join us for a discussion on Mobile Payment on September 24th http://bit.ly/1LHi8Dz

About the Author: 

Hsuan-hua Chang, a mobile technology strategist and business coach,  has over 20 years of experience in wireless technology, holding many corporate positions ranging from software engineer, technical architect to product marketing manager. She is the author of “Everyday NFC Second Edition: Near Field Communication Explained” http://amzn.to/1INl703

Read more of her posts at http://bit.ly/1DG2af1mobile wallet

Agile Apple Pay – P2P Is Coming

Before Agile methodology surfaced, waterfall methodology was used for software development; after requirements were collected, the software was designed, developed, tested, deployed and maintained. This process could take a long time if the project had a large scope. Sometimes, the product might not be delivered on time or delivered but did not meet the needs of the customer.

An example would be the Softcard mobile wallet (formally named ISIS); a joint venture between AT&T, T-Mobile and Verizon with billions in investments. Since its launch in November 2013, consumers didn’t adapt the product. It was finally shutdown in 2015 after Google purchased some of its IP. The technology (Near Field Communication) has great potential; yet, most of the consumers didn’t even know their mobile phones were NFC enabled.

Agile, a very different approach, works at a sustainable pace to develop minimal software with minimal functionality and a shorter development cycle. With shared responsibilities between the product owner, scrum master and development team, each development cycle delivers a work release.

Using mobile payment as an example, I think Apple Pay was implemented with an Agile approach. When the whole NFC world was waiting for an NFC wallet to be delivered on iPhone 5s and 5c (released in 2013) and it didn’t happen. Instead, iPhone 5s enabled Touch ID; a fingerprint authentication mechanism. Not until the iPhone 6 release in 2014, NFC payment came through with Apple Pay using Touch ID to provide a “single touch to pay” user experience. This year, Apple Watch enables Apple Pay for iPhone 5, 5s and 5c.

It might not be fair to compare Softcard and Apple Pay development since Apple owns its devices and can pace their software/hardware features/functionalities in a more integrated approach while Telecoms didn’t have this ability.

Now, what is next for Apple Pay? Apple was just granted a patent for peer to peer (p2p) mobile payment today. The Patent states that NFC and Bluetooth can be used for one device sending a payment to another device securely and at no cost.  This is another effort to enable quick communication between devices in order to move into the world of IoT (Internet of Things).

So shall we conclude that Apple Pay is an Agile product? Love to hear your thoughts.

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NFC, Big Data, Internet of Things and a Connected Society

Sensors are powerful enablers for Internet of Things.

GE uses data collected by sensors to help in the reduction of millions in fuel costs [1]. Transport for London uses data collected by sensors to understand how people travel and respond quickly when a disruption occurs [2]. The healthcare industry uses data collected by sensors to monitor the activity of patients and provide better patient care [3].

All of these sensor data feed into BigData. Business intelligence (BI) that emerges from sensor data analysis (SDA) helps create new products and services as well as to enhance the existing ones.

Using GE as an example, last year The New York Times notedThomas Edison would be proud. General Electric, the company he started, still knows how to make a buck off cutting-edge technology.” Predix, an IoT (Internet of Things) big data product was implemented entirely with sensor equipped GE machines. Every day Predix gathers 50 million pieces of data from 10 million sensors; including those hooked up to jet engines.

Using Transport for London (TfL) as an example, not only is data collected through NFC enabled Oyster cards but also from sensors attached to vehicles and traffic signals. TfL provides open APIs to software developers to access the data in order to create new services and products. That is an open and forward looking approach since community effort always generates a win-win for consumers and businesses.

In the case of health care, sensors can be embedded in the hospital beds, medical devices or wearable. There are so many use cases to show the power of connected devices. For example, a monitor system that learns normal patient physiological and activity patterns would send an alert when abnormal data (change in blood sugar, for example) appears.

When all of these connected devices are talking to each other through a wireless infrastructure or the internet, we are in a world of Internet of Things. Products and services that collect, store and analyze data are just beginning of a transformation enabled by technologies like sensors, cloud and mobility. BI and business decisions are the focus right now. At the same time, new business opportunities are unlimited. How to seize the opportunity requires visionary ideas and technology agility [4]. The end result would be a Connected Society [5]; where people are more connected to each other and to their environment.

It’s an exciting time! What is one challenge you are facing?

[1] Enterprise Big Data (Data Lake) https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/20140815010520-12418284-enterprises-big-data-data-lake?trk=mp-reader-card&trk=mp-reader-card

[2] How Big Data and the Internet of Things Improve Public Transport in London http://www.forbes.com/sites/bernardmarr/2015/05/27/how-big-data-and-the-internet-of-things-improve-public-transport-in-london/

[3] Sensor Data Analytics – Unlocking Value in ‘Big Data’ http://www.eetimes.com/author.asp?section_id=36&doc_id=1326715

[4] State Technology Welcome Idea Economy https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/state-technology-welcome-idea-economy-meg-whitman?trk=prof-post

[5] Beyond an Internet of Things: Building the Connected Society http://www.boozallen.com/insights/2015/05/beyond-an-internet-of-things/thank-you

Three Reasons You Don’t Want an Apple Watch

After a long anticipated wait and a two week pre-order launch, Apple Watch was finally released on April 29th. I walked into an Apple store yesterday and was excited to see all of the Apply Watches on display.  They were beautiful! See all models here.

After trying on a basic Apple Watch Sport, I was told that there were no watches available for purchase in store. Ordering an Apple Watch Sport ($349) might take weeks.

The most interesting feature to me was Apple Pay, powered by NFC (Near Field Communication). A rep was nice enough to show me the steps to set it up:

  • Enable Bluetooth setting on my iPhone6.
  • Click on the Apple Watch app icon on my iPhone6 and see the pairing screen as the picture shown below.
  • Click on “Start Pairing” box.
  • Hold Apple Watch up to the Camera and align it with the viewfinder as the picture shown below.
  • When pairing is complete, you can use Apple Watch to perform Apple Pay.
  • You have to have your iPhone with you.

paringparing1

There are three reasons you don’t want an Apple Watch

1. You have a Windows phone or an Android phone. Since Apple Watch only pairs with an iPhone, you can’t use your phone with it.

2. You have an iPhone 4 or iPhone 4s.  Since Apple Watch only pairs with iPhone 6/6+/5/5c/5s, your iPhone is too old.

3. You only want a watch. Without carrying your iPhone, your Apple Watch won’t work.

It’s a bit odd to me to invent a wearable that depends on the existence of your mobile phone. However, when pairing with Apple Watch, iPhones 5/5c/5s obtain Apple Pay functionality. This significant feature has not been discussed much. NFC chips are embedded in iPhone 6 and iPhone 6+, enabling in-app Apple Pay functionality in those phones, a feature not available on previously released models.  If Apple Watch starts to be adopted, the addition of NFC functionality into iPhone 5/5c/5s would help mobile payment (Apple Pay) taking off.

If you wear a watch and carry an iPhone now, you might really like the convenience that Apple Watch provides; such as receiving messages/calls, checking maps and mobile payment, etc. If you are like me, always pulling out my iPhone to check the time, Apple Watch could make a great Mother’s day gift… even if it does come a bit belated.

About the Author:

Hsuan-hua Chang has over 20 years of experience in wireless technology, holding many corporate positions ranging from software engineer, technical architect to product marketing manager. She is the author of “Everyday NFC Second Edition: Near Field Communication Explained”