On Tuesday, Apple used its traditional September media event to announce several new products including the iPhone 6, iPhone 6 Plus, and the long-awaited wearable, the Apple Watch. Besides the usual improvements in yearly iteration of phones making them faster and having a longer battery life, this year’s products both included larger screens that will increase productivity by making it easier to read Word documents, Excel spreadsheets and Powerpoint slides while on the go. However, an important part of the announcements was a new feature called NFC.
Capabilities of NFC
NFC stands for “near field communication,” which allows for short-range secure interactions between two devices to exchange data with a significantly reduced possibility of data theft. Apple’s initial use case for NFC was for the announcement of Apple Pay, a mobile payment solution meant to securely allow users to purchase items by avoiding the transmission of actual credit card numbers. Apple Pay is also tied to Touch ID, allowing for secure authentication of a user’s credentials that takes very little time to authenticate versus traditional numeric pins and passcodes. NFC and Apple Pay are also supported on the Apple Watch coming in early 2015.
For enterprises, NFC and associated RFID technology combined with Touch ID opens up an entire realm of possibilities around more secure biometric authentication. Today, that includes fingerprint scanning, but in the near future could include iris scanning, facial recognition, and voice pattern analysis. Smartphone devices are so personal and carried everywhere by users that enterprises can rely on users having them. Enterprises often have secure rooms requiring RFID-enabled badges which could easily be replaced with smartphones. New features in iOS 8 allow developers to write apps which can use Touch ID to authenticate users for access to specific documents stored on a company’s cloud servers. By tying access of enterprise data to painless but more secure methods, this should reduce the occurrence of security breaches while increasing end user satisfaction which will ensure rapid adoption by users.
NFC isn’t just for device-to-device communication, however. There are now thin NFC stickers which allow for the embedding of small amounts of information that can be stored without needing any power. These stickers can be purchased very cheaply (around $1 each) and are water and weather resistant. A possible use case for these stickers is to put them on product inventory for a business which stores information on where a shipment was sent from, where it is going, and an ID number which the phone can use to pull sensitive data from the server to be presented to a logistics administrator. They can also be embedded in business cards to be given out to others which store contact information. A phone can simply tap on the card to download the contact instead of needing to type in all the information in the correct fields which saves time (and makes it more likely they save your info). In commercial and retail settings, NFC tags can embed website URLs to increase customer engagement with a particular product. NFC allows for new and interesting interactions with more relevant use cases being invented every day.
Biometric identification becomes more seamless with a device like the Apple Watch. Since it’s almost always with you, it would be possible to unlock doors, access secure enterprise computers, equipment, and data among other things using NFC. Security is maintained as the device asks for the user to re-authenticate as soon as the watch is taken off. The Apple Watch also supports 3rd party applications so custom enterprise apps could be loaded which present information to the user to take actions on.
These are some of Apple’s most exciting products in years and show that Apple is still the company to beat in both enterprise mobile device deployments and consumer smartphones.