Mobile: Why hasn’t NFC caught on? Because it’s awkward

I was catching up on my tech reading on a quiet afternoon, and I found myself perusing an article about one of my favorite topics – the newest in mobile devices. I was reading a piece about the new Moto X that mentioned it features NFC (Near Field Communication) capabilities, like most other Android phones.

That’s when it hit me – what happened to NFC? I was so excited about it a couple of years ago. I thought NFC would be the future of mobile! I couldn’t wait to get a phone with NFC capabilities… Now I have one, and I forgot it even has the function. Why hasn’t NFC caught on?

For those of you who don’t know (or may have forgotten) NFC is a technology that allows your phone to exchange information and transactions securely with another device. The device can be another phone, a payment kiosk or even a poster with a chip in it (like in the Samsung commercials). Place the devices within a couple of centimeters and you can transfer data easily.

There are some everyday uses for NFC that would make life a bit easier and would consolidate the amount of junk we carry around every day. So, imagine you are at the grocery store getting ready to pay. Cash? Who uses that anymore? Credit Card? Put that away, fool. Smartphone? Now we’re talking, just tap it to the NFC reader and you’re set. Sounds pretty convenient to me. NFC could also be used for metro passes – once again, count me in. It’s also easy way to share songs or pictures between smartphones with friends, eliminating the need to email large data files.

Outside of everyday uses, there is branding and marketing potential for NFC. You could use it to give your customers special offers, or to unlock special apps, or for augmented reality.

As I was imagining all of the cool things I could do with NFC for my clients, I came to realize that NFC seems to be meeting a fate similar to the old QR code. Asia falls in love with it – uses it all the time. While we… just don’t.

As a form of payment, I still think NFC could have a chance. Paying with my phone is great. Right now I pay with Square when I can, but NFC seems like it would be even easier.

However, for brand activations or other marketing and PR uses, there is one big issue with NFC. You run into the awkward situation of standing by a poster and having to hold your phone up to it, close enough to touch (check out that Samsung video, above). This gets some stares. I have firsthand experience, as I swallowed my pride and actually did it once with one of the Samsung posters at the airport. I’m pretty self-confident, but it made me feel weird and awkward.

Same goes for sharing data with friends. You’re bumping your phones together and trying to get them to sense each other to transmit the data. Yep, awkward, again.

So, no wonder NFC isn’t catching on. The U.S. is the land of cool – Aviators, Toms Shoes, Bourbon. Rubbing our phones together? That’s just off. After all, we don’t like to be awkward, but we sure do like to make fun of people who are.

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