NFC: More Than Just a Mobile Wallet

As I’ve said before, the concept of an NFC-powered mobile wallet faces plenty of challenges, especially in the short term. Sustainable business models have yet to emerge, retailers must invest in expensive readers and — not for nothing — credit cards and cash work just fine. (Not to mention that many customers are simply uncomfortable with the idea of paying for stuff with their phones, according to a study released last week.)

But NFC is nonetheless coming to handsets in a big way, as evidenced by a slew of announcements at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona last week. So while NFC-enabled handsets will come to market before other crucial elements for a truly mobile wallet fall into place, there are still some possibilities for the technology in the interim. Here are a few possibilities:

  • Mobile marketing. RFID-enabled posters and stickers can be used to transmit product information or promotional discounts with just a click or two (which makes them potentially more effective than mobile barcodes). And brick-and-mortar retailers can install readers that let users join an e-mail list with just a wave of their phones.
  • A virtual fingerprint. Brick-and-mortar sites like restaurants and concert venues can use NFC to get their customers to advertise for them through social networks. Google is pursuing that strategy in Portland, Ore., by packaging NFC with its Google Places (s goog) window stickers for retailers.
  • Application discovery. Countless businesses are using smartphone apps to engage with their customers on the go, but those apps are too often lost amid the hundreds of thousands of titles in Apple’s (s aapl) App Store and Google’s Android Market. Instead of asking consumers to wade through those vast libraries, NFC can deliver an app directly to a phone quickly and easily.

The mobile wallet may never gain traction the way some hope it does, but a powerful new tool is coming to handsets in the form of NFC. Savvy advertisers and app developers should be paying attention. For more potential uses for NFC, please read my column this week at GigaOM Pro (subscription required).

Image source: Flickr user kawanet.

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