Is Apple Ruining NFC Payments For Everyone?

Yesterday, the Commonwealth Bank announced a new banking app that will allow customers to make NFC payments on Android and iOS devices. Supermarket chain Coles is also launching NFC payments, which will initially be limited to a 5000 customer trial. While this news is definitely cause for excitement, there's no denying that Australia is lagging behind most of the developed world when it comes to NFC payments — and a lot of the blame can be laid squarely on a certain phone company from Cupertino, California.

By the end of the year, Commonwealth Bank customers will be able to use their phones' internal NFC hardware to make instant product purchases. Coles is also introducing an NFC payment service dubbed 'Pay Tag' which the company claims will help customers to simplify their lives, save time and effectively manage their finances. This is all well and good, but why has it taken so long?

After all, near field communication (NFC) smartphone technology has become increasingly common in recent years. It can now be found in most decent Android, Windows Phone and Blackberry handsets. And yet, one of the chief advantages of this technology — contactless payments with your phone — remains a rarity in Australia.

The success of PayPass and similar technologies has proven there's an appetite for this purchasing method. Indeed, Australians are among the most prolific users of contactless card payments in the world. So why are we still waiting for NFC payments to become mainstream?

Part of the problem has to do with the enduring popularity of the iPhone, which remains an NFC-free zone to this day. Simply put, implementing NFC payments usually isn't worth a merchant's time if nearly half of prospective customers can't use it. According to a recent Telsyte Australian Smartphone Market Study, 43 per cent of smartphones in Australia run on the iOS platform. That's a lot of phones without NFC capabilities.

Commonwealth Bank is attempting to get around this issue via NFC stickers for iPhones, but this requires slapping an ugly black square onto the back of your phone, which is something many fashion-conscious iPhone users may balk at. Coles has also gone down the sticker route and has made no mention of utilising internal smartphone hardware. This means even NFC-enabled smartphones will likely require a sticker. Simply put, Apple's refusal to embrace NFC is holding up technological progress.

It might look unobtrusive enough, but iPhone fashionistas may beg to differ.

Despite Android's market gains, many businesses still seem to focus the bulk of their initiatives on the iPhone (an anomaly that we've touched on in the past.) CBA actually offered NFC payments to iOS before any other platform — back in 2012, it launched the ugly and surprisingly buggy iCarte case which added NFC functionality to iPhones. Android users, meanwhile, were left in the dark despite many of their phones having NFC built in.

To be fair, the fractured nature of the Android market does create its own difficulties when it comes to NFC product development. But this excuse can only go so far — especially in the face of iOS' morphing screen sizes. Google also shares some of the blame, at least when it comes to the US-only Google Wallet. Device manufacturers have also been known to contribute to the holdup by refusing to grant third-party access to the required secure element on their hardware. Nonetheless, there's no denying that many businesses in retail and banking simply don't want to know about NFC because it doesn't work on iPhone.

Hopefully, Commonwealth Bank's most recent initiative will prove successful enough for other companies to emulate. Time will tell.

Do you think Apple is partly responsible for the lack of NFC payment options in Australia? Or are we talking absolute hogwash? Make your opinion heard in the comments section below!

See also: Does NFC Have A Future In Australia? | Why Is "iOS Only" Still A Thing?

Lifehacker's weekly Loaded column looks at better ways to manage (and stop worrying about) your money.


Comments

    "which is something many fashion-conscious iPhone users may balk at"
    But those same "fashion conscious" iPhone users most likely have an ugly, gaudy case around the phone which would hide the sticker

      Sell cases with it built in. Apple users will then be talking about how amazing apple is and their case which has this. Even though every one else has had it for ages.

        Even simpler option... Just get one of the million cases with card slots. Leave your paywave/paypass card in there. If fact many people already do that.

    To be fair, the fractured nature of the Android market does create its own difficulties when it comes to NFC product development.
    I could maybe understand that in games, but for an app that isn't going to be too hardware intensive? I assume that NFC is otherwise standardised over all the android devices that have it

      i can only guess it might be to do with what APIs are available in each version of android

      And telcos that disable products like Google Wallet because they have their own contactless payment options. Verizon was guilty of this, I think

      It's format wars all over again -- stifle the competition by abusing openness in favour of your own product.

    I've never understood this obsession with using your phone to pay for things. My credit card supports touch payments, and I always have my wallet with me. I don't see the benefit from being able to use my phone instead.

    What am I missing?

      Different purchasing cultures. In most of east Asia (Hong Kong, Japan, Korea), contact-less payment methods have been the norm for over two decades (at least, it has been in HK). Before the iPhone, Japanese mobiles were probably the most complex in the world and were used to pay for things.

      To answer the question, benefit is that you don't need to carry a wallet filled with cash. As some of the posts have mentioned, this can sort of be side stepped with cases that allow for cards slots so you can throw your ID and paypass/wave enabled card with your phone and voila. Either way, options.

      So you won't need to take your wallet with you. All your cards will eventually be stored in your phone.

    Of course Apple don't want any part of NFC, they don't own it and can't control it. They don't even like using USB ports on their devices, you know, the ports that every other device uses.

      Maybe in the handheld realm. Historically Apple were at the forefront of USB adoption.

        Is that why Apple keeps insisting on using Firewire as well?

        Last edited 18/10/13 3:28 pm

          Someone may be able to correct me, but I think they support Firewire because it used to be faster than USB and many people/businesses have legacy firewire devices?

            Firewire actually still has a couple of advantages over USB, mostly to do with CPU utilization (Firewire supports Direct Memory Access, which means less interrupts.. of course, this is at the expense of security). And of course, USB 2.0 wasn't full duplex...

            Yes, because right now Apple is REALLY concerned with making sure it's legacy products remain functional.

      Apple popularised USB on the iMac over a decade ago and made it mainstream. You know its a port on every one of their computers.

        I think he means use of micro-USB, which at this point is practically criminal on Apple's behalf.

    NFC on my phone is just like pay pass on my cc.
    A huge security hole that I don't want.
    What I don't need is to loose my phone only to find that someone has drained my account down at the local bottle shop.

      Or stolen your credit card, gone to the bottleo and paid with Credit, forging your signature in much the same way as paying via contactless?

        I wish my credit card forced me to use pins... Hate signing and think its unnecessary, especially becuase it is completely useless at being secure.

          This is coming. Changes to the VISA & Mastercard schemes next year mean that PINs will start to become mandatory by late 2014 through to 2015.

          This will be disappearing very soon. Also, anyone that's concerned about security risk with contactless doesn't know much about payments. I could steal your credit card and spend thousands online within minutes... and your worried about small value transactions? Not to mention, you don't have to go contactless to pay without verification.

      Which is why Apple is using Touch ID.

    I suppose this will just open the market for people to buy new backs for their phones, which integrate the NFC chip and antenna, thus removing the need for 'ugly' stickers, or 'ugly' cases.

    Or, someone can work out how much space there is inside the back of my iPhone, to see if we can squeeze in a slim NFC in there.

    Lots of retailers support purchases without pin's or signatures. Some up to $100 in a single transaction. Therefore I could steal your credit/debit card and spend up to your daily limit (usually $1000) at a number of retailers throughout the day without requiring any pins or signatures.

      While I can understand that it is a definite possibility. Its more likely they will steal it, use it to buy a big one off purchase ie. computer etc. with a forged signature. Most criminals wouldnt go to ten different places just to get a 10 different things. The signature is probably the most insecure thing on the card, most peoples signatures dont match day to day anyway.

        Most fraud is more organised than that and involves stealing your data in some way. I don't believe there are huge instances of stolen cards used for purchases - it's really not an issue anyone should worry about, and there are protections for consumers regardless.

      You'll find that many banks don't allow more than 3 pinless/ non-signature credit card payments per day. I work for a supermarket, and we had a customer use his credit card for a roughly $30 purchase and his bank phoned him while he was at the checkout because it turns out he'd used it twice in the previous hour for purchases not requiring verification.
      But I agree with signatures being the least secure thing.

    Do a web lookup on iBeacon. This is Apples direction, and Google has started looking into as well.

      Precisely @bdekok ... both iOS7 and Android 4.3+ have started working with something called Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE), which can be thought of as just standard Bluetooth 4.0 signals on various devices, including tiny ones designed to be able to announce themselves to their surroundings for up to 2 years on a single watch battery. Think of those devices as tiny lighthouses (beacons) that travellers can use to orient themselves and find their place in the world.

      When connected to the outside world (the Interwebs) the beacon concept and ecosystem can do a bunch more, including indoors geo-location marking (GPS satellites don't work in shopping centres etc).

      From a payments perspective, it can work in the other direction by negotiating between the shopper's device and the Point-of-Sale system .... PayPal have in fact recently announced their own "Beacon" product which will be available to bricks-and-mortar merchants soon.

      Our R&D department is already working on developing apps and hardware that work with this as we see it being an interesting potential cross-platform solution for a great many things (sorry NFC proponents, you may have a challenge on your hands).

      Prediction: Watch out for BLE and (i)Beacons in the next 6-18 months for the "next big thing".

    Chris Jager, are you a rookie? You've certainly made a rookie mistake in this article.

    Never, ever, EVER use an acronym before defining it. It alienates readers unfamiliar with the term, and is even worse when you're talking about new technology. In this article, you waited until the third paragraph before letting me know what I was reading about: Near Field Communications.

      if you do't know what NFC stands for, you shouldn't be on this site.

    "Never, ever, EVER use an acronym before defining it."

    Yeah! All those pesky acronyms like GFC, AGW, and NFC make it really difficult to know what's going on in the world.

    Mind you, Chris did provide a link in his first sentence to explain the term for the dull-witted.

    .....enter sa_penguin

      Ah well, TANSTAAFL. YMMV.
      I pity the person at work, who doesn't know what NSFW stands for, and clicks the link to discover... the porn at the other end is Not Suitable For Work.

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