Product Strategists Should See NFC As Much More Than Contactless Payments

A year ago, Forrester stated that 2011 would — finally — be the year that Near Field Communications (NFC) began to matter. We predicted that dozens of millions of NFC devices would ship and that the market would start moving away from being niche, although it would still be years away from becoming mainstream. Now that 2011 is coming to an end and it is once again the time for predictions, let’s look back at NFC’s year before we publish our report on mobile trends in 2012 at the start of next year.

I recently got confirmation from trusted sources that 35 million to 40 million would be a good estimate for worldwide NFC mobile phone shipments. 2011 was a game-changing year in that handset makers eventually started to embed the technology in their product portfolio.

Despite the hype about Google Wallet, the reality is that few consumers can use it. It will take a few more years before we reach a critical mass of not just NFC device owners but also users of services enabled by NFC technology. Why? Few services are available now; the out-of-the-box experience is still poor; consumer education is missing; and there’s only limited availability of NFC readers in the retail environment.

Product strategists should stop focusing on NFC as just a contactless payment technology but should instead anticipate new uses for the technology that enable consumers to interact with the environment around them.

Most consumers using an NFC device in 2012 will more likely use it for device-pairing or data-sharing purposes than for payments. Why? Because it can work in a closed loop without the need for NFC infrastructure. Device manufacturers will offer NFC-based multimedia content sharing services, such as the recent Blackberry Tag.

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