Apple iOS Passbook vs Near Field Communication (NFC)

If you know me, you probably know that I am not really much of an Apple fan & I usually write posts complaining about what Apple are doing and what people buying Apple products are thinking. However, although it’s quite rare, I do sometimes like the odd few features they release in the next iOS update or iPhone announcement. This time around, with iOS6, I am pretty fond about the new Passbook feature. I am not too fond that the iPhone 5 does not come with NFC though. Nevertheless, both Passbook and NFC serve a similar purpose – to identify or grant access to something. So what do I mean about this?

iOS6 Passbook on iPhone 5

Put it all out on the table

So let’s take the “top” two phones currently in the market today: Samsung Galaxy S3 & Apple iPhone 5. The S3 has NFC built-in and the iPhone 5 has Passbook. NFC is a physical feature (hardware) built into the handset and the Passbook is software based. NFC technology is widely used more than we know it such as in our UK passports or TfL Oyster Cards. NFC is increasingly getting popular too with Barclays Cards issuing their debit cards with NFC built in for faster payments. Piloting schemes are taking place as we speak to test the use of NFC for mobile payment. Passbook is brand new!

Why doesn’t iPhone 5 have NFC?

Any one of the Apple representatives who have been asked this question unanimously answered with that NFC hasn’t matured yet & it has huge set up costs for companies  to build an infrastructure for it. In a way, I agree with what they are saying however Google have managed to make X number of uses for NFC which I’m sure iPhone 5 could have had the joys of doing.

Why is Passbook so good then?

The Passbook could be seen as a wallet to put your digital cards in and it is essentially a digital way of showing that you have a card with information that can be viewed by someone else (e.g. a membership card which can be viewed by a company on arrival at their building). The example that Apple use themselves are boarding passes with a barcode ready to be scanned by the Airlines scanning equipment. In fact I could think of many uses for it. Where I see it trumping NFC is when it comes to the small to medium sized businesses. For example, a club may have an event on with X number of tickets to sell. The club is likely to be able to set up the ticket for iOS6 use however they cannot afford to set up an infrastructure to scan NFC tags at the door. Not a lot of phones have NFC too whereas Passbook is a software thing which could technically be put on any phone therefore helping small businesses to not dish out in printing costs and easier distribution which would satisfy the consumer as the ticket would be stored in a managable manner rather than it being hidden in your emails as an e-ticket or as a scrap piece of paper in your pocket.

Should Passbook be available for other platforms?

In my opinion, Passbook should most definitely be available on other platforms but I don’t know what Apple’s take on that would be. Judging by their current shenanigans with Samsung with regards to the patent battle, Apple love to be unique and are not one for sharing. The thing is, I don’t envisage Passbook being a success unless they let other platforms such as Android do something similar or use it. It is something which would be good to standardise.

Where Apple missed a trick

I believe having both technologies NFC and Passbook together would have been a good combination. I’m sure people wouldn’t mind using their iPhone5 to walk through the gates on the London Underground rather than having to remember to take your Oyster card with you. Well, maybe Apple didn’t miss the trick but are holding NFC back for the iPhone 5S? After all, they need something to set the iPhone 5 and their next handset apart.

So what do you think? Are you an Apple user making use of Passbook? Would you have preferred to see NFC in the iPhone5? Leave a comment.

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