BlackBerry maker Research in Motion (RIM) is pushing the near-field communications (NFC) capabilities in some of its newer handsets, a feature that it sees as a real differentiator for the BlackBerry and an important step forwards in making smartphones smarter.
At the BlackBerry World conference in Orlando, RIM gathered together a handful of partners who have been developing NFC applications, including contactless payments, access control, airline ticketing, loyalty cards and more.
The move comes as RIM announced availability of its BlackBerry 7.1 software update with NFC capabilities is now available for UK customers with handsets such as the Bold 9900, and the firm also unveiled the BlackBerry Music Gateway (pictured) that lets users tap with an NFC enabled BlackBerry to stream music via the device.
Meanwhile, RIM also said that the UK is a prime market for NFC, and thus an opportunity for the new BlackBerry devices.
On the NFC applications side, Turkish mobile operator Turkcell claimed to be the first in Europe to offer a mobile payment platform that can any bank can sign up to, and which is already supported by four banks, enabling Turkcell subscribers with a BlackBerry 9900 to use the handset as a mobile wallet with tap-to-pay capability.
French firm Inside Secure disclosed how it was using NFC to combat counterfeiting by embedding a tag into high-value consumer goods such as designer handbags. Using this scheme, the buyer can then tap the bag with their phone to authenticate it over the network to identify whether it is a genuine product or not.
HID Global, which makes contactless cards for access control, demonstrated an application for the BlackBerry 9900 that enables the phone to be used to gain entry to an office building, and also for single sign-on at a computer workstation.
Using a phone for access control means that the company can just push out the app along with your access credentials when you join, according to Daniel Bailin, director of strategic innovation at HID Global.
When used for single sign-on, the user presents the phone to an NFC reader and keys in a PIN on the phone screen to log in, making it a secure two-factor authentication method of access control, especially if the system is configured to automatically lock your account if the phone is moved away from the computer.
Bailin said that in future, consumers could use an NFC controlled door on their home to allow tradesmen to gain access without requiring them to take a day off work, with rules governing specific times they would be allowed to enter.
Finally, Neil Garner of NFC payments, ticketing and proximity marketing firm Proxama enthused about the possibilities of the technology, touting it as "the next biggest evolution of the mobile phone since wireless data support", as it connects up the physical and data worlds, he said.
Garner said that NFC will enable applications such as airline ticketing, where you just tap with your phone to check in, or easy access to public Wi-Fi hotspots where a simple tap configures your phone to connect.
"NFC is more than just a technology," said Geoffrey MacGillivray, manager for services security, payments and NFC at RIM.
MacGillvray predicted that NFC would be big in future, estimating that the technology will be in almost 30 percent of all handsets by 2016, hence RIM's interest in getting early support in its handsets.
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