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07 March 2013
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What Google's NFC Forum move means for Apple's iPhone 6 NFC prospects

It was announced earlier this week that the NFC Forum, the global NFC standards association, has added Google onto it's Board of Directors. Google join a notable list of companies that hold this position including Intel, Visa, Mastercard, Nokia, Sony and Samsung. Clearly, for the NFC ecosystem it's a good thing to have such a progressive tech company providing guidance and getting involved at the top level. But perhaps it's also an interesting sign of strategic positioning.

The NFC Forum is an important global body. Amongst other things, it is responsible for setting the technical specifications for NFC to ensure compatability. We, RapidNFC, are a member of the NFC Forum and there are significant number of other companies such as Microsoft, Canon, BlackBerry, PayPal and HP who are also members.

Apple are not members of the NFC Forum. While this may be because they have no intention of including NFC in the iPhone or other products, it may also be that they don't want to give any indication that they may include NFC. Obviously we don't know but there are a number of companies involved in the Forum that don't currently actively work with NFC but are involved so that they understand the system and can plan for it.

NFC isn't a technology that works in isolation. It's a technology that is all about objects talking to each other - phones to payment terminals, NFC tags to readers and so on. It's a technology that requires standards and guidelines so that the whole NFC infrastructure works reliably. It's not going to be in Apple's interest to launch their own 'version' of NFC and while Apple have always kept their cards close and have always done their own thing, to remain removed from what is the most important NFC industry body would, under normal business procedure, seem odd.

It could be argued that Apple have made a decision never to include NFC. In which case there would be no need to be part of the industry body but such a long term decision on what is essentially still an embrionic technology would be, perhaps, foolish.

And this is what makes Google's addition to the Board of Directors alongside Samsung, Sony and Nokia perhaps more interesting. As a piece of strategic positioning the NFC Forum is now being part governed by Apple's most important competitors (save perhaps Microsoft depending on your view on that one). Clearly, this wouldn't stop Apple releasing the iPhone 6 (or iPhone 5S) with NFC but as mentioned, NFC doesn't work well in isolation and if Apple do decide to jump on board with NFC surely it makes more sense to be inside the Forum guiding it's future than having to be part of the decisions that the Forum makes.

Decisions which are now being made by Apple's leading competitors.