NFC VS iBeacons

I’m all for BLE (bluetooth low energy). All but for a few details.

I like to come at tech from average user POV. Before I go into yesterdays iPhone 5S reveal. I want to tell you about 2 encounters I had a week ago. I was making my rounds for work when I encountered someone else with a lumia 920. I asked her how she liked the phone & she “loves it”. I asked her if she uses the wireless charging on it & the answer was an emphatic yes. Then I asked her about NFC. She didn’t know it was in her phone. Mainly because no one told her. Once I explained what it was & how it worked (this all took place in a 5 min conversation) she was in love with it. A similar occurrence happened a few days back between me & an Galaxy S3 owner. She knew her phone had it but other than sharing photos between galaxys’, She rarely used it. Until I showed her how to exchange contact information. Sharing media between windows phone & android is almost impossible via NFC/bluetooth.

Fast forward to yesterdays iPhone keynote. One of the items most talked about in the otherwise Meh event was iBeacons. Sites like GigaOm (http://gigaom.com/2013/09/10/with-ibeacon-apple-is-going-to-dump-on-nfc-and-embrace-the-internet-of-things/) couldn’t help but gush about it. But talking with a handful of people about it (letting them read GigaOms article) & explaining what makes it different from NFC led me to a conclusion. It will fail miserably. I don’t mean “Zune Fail”, I mean “Ping Fail”. There are 3 reasons for this.

1: Most people aren’t techies. BLE will have less traction than almost ubiquitous NFC. Samsung pushes NFC & by the presses measurements it hasn’t really taken off. And Samsung has spent billions of dollars advertising. Never mind that people are creatures of habit. Apple is trying to push a proprietary version of a verdant technology as an alternative to a almost widely used standard that they themselves called an answer in search of a question. Unless they show it working with something other than apple devices, it will fail. Most people don’t care about facetime & iMessage because it only works with other iOS devices. More people use Kik, Voxer, Whatsapp & Skype. Better known as services that are AVAILABLE EVERYWHERE.

2: People may not be very techie in general. But people generally do 2 things. 1 is turn off bluetooth if they don’t have bluetooth headsets or in car bluetooth. And 2 turn off Wifi if they’re not near a hotspot. For iBeacons to work bluetooth & wifi for wifi-direct requires both of those things to be on. Bluetooth has to be on for nfc to work. But NFC takes less power than WiFi.

3: BLE vs NFC for making payments. Lets take it from gigaom: ”
In theory, NFC range is up to 20cm (7.87 inches), but the actual optimal range is less than 4cm (1.57 inches).” “iBeacons range is up to 50 meters.” Apple being Apple couldn’t help but show how easily discoverable devices are on stage. Which do you feel more secure with when making transactions; a device that requires you to be about an inch away to exchange your money or a device that you can send money over the air from within 164 feet? Explaining this to my non-techie friends resuklted in them being in favor of the former of the later. Then there’s the cost to store owners. Again from GigaOms article; “Estimote, a company which just launched to sell beacons, is taking pre-orders at the price of $99 for 3 beacons.” NFC tags cost 0.10 cents. NFC is already available at Wallgreens, Rite-Aid, Duane Reade, most gas stations, I even see them on the subway and advertising. It’s in door locks. It’s in most accessories already. They aren’t going to replace NFC overnight with ble. Besides that banks & mobile carriers are the biggest road blocks to phones as debt card. See Isis. Apple presented no solution to them.

Low Power Bluetooth has a future but not without NFC right next to it. NFC biggest problem is that people don’t know it exists. At best they know it as S-Beam. Contrary to the tech presses assertions. For NFC to take off, Apple doesn’t need to pick it up. Microsoft, Nokia and Google are pushing it now. For NFC to take off it needs Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, spotify, xbox music, evernote, office, skydrive, dropbox & Yammer to adopt it. People don’t make purchases as much as they interact on social. 6Tag the best instagram app on windows phone already does this. if friending people, adding stuff to peoples wall, sharing via social, exchanging music & documents etc was easy to when in proximity to the person you want to share with was made possible between apps regardless of platform. NFC would take off. Apple be damned!

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