October 14, 2010, 10:09 AM

NFC and a different reality

Two buzzwords at the Mobile Commerce Forum were Near Field Communications and augmented reality.

Two buzzwords at the first Internet Retailer Mobile Commerce Forum held this week in Chicago have been Near Field Communications and augmented reality. Although several speakers uttered the phrases, they were mainly mentioned in passing, with little description of what the technologies are and how they relate or will relate to mobile. 

So, let’s start with a little vocabulary lesson.

NFC, which stands for Near Field Communication, is a technology that enables phones (or other items, such as credit cards) to interact with objects—such as posters and payment terminals—from just a few feet away.

Augmented reality uses the capabilities of a mobile phone to enhance a presentation, such as using the camera to identify a consumer’s location and then sending her a coupon to a nearby store.

My experience (and granted I didn’t sit in every session) was that most of the time the two technologies were mentioned in the ever-popular “conclusion slide,” as showing promise for the future. But I never heard examples of either technology being used in the U.S. today for mobile marketing or commerce.

I do know that eBay is using a rudimentary version of augmented reality in one of its mobile apps that enables shoppers to place articles of clothing atop pictures of themselves on their mobile phones. But that’s about all I’ve got.

NFC on the other hand, I have a little more experience with. It was favorite term in the space I covered at my first job out of school, writing about card-based payments, ATMs and banking for a Chicago-based business publication. Bigger in Japan and Europe, the technology is moderately used there for making payments with a mobile device by tapping or waving the phone in front of a properly equipped terminal. Although it’s been a topic of conversation for years among mobile and payment techies here, the trend has yet to catch on much in the States.

So, what do these two technologies mean for mobile? I’ve got a lot buzz here and little to back it up. Do you readers have any examples of either technology being used today in the U.S. for mobile? Do any of you still believe NFC has a future in U.S. mobile payments despite the technology being around for years with little adoption? Do you agree with many of our Mobile Commerce Forum speakers that both these technologies will play a big role in the future of mobile commerce? If so, how? Feel free to share your vivid, compelling examples in the comment box below.

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