Have you heard of NFC? And no, I don’t mean the National Football Conference. I am talking about Near field communication. The Google Wallet FAQ (more on Google Wallet in a second) defines NFC as “a wireless technology that enables data transmission between two objects when they are brought within a few inches of each other. Smartphones enabled with NFC technology can exchange data with other NFC enabled devices or read information from smart tags embedded in posters, stickers, and other products.” NFC is a subset of RFID, but NFC only works between objects no more than 4 inches from each other and it is used when security is needed. Smartphones enabled with NFC are already being used in Japan and Korea by people to purchase subway tickets, check in for flights, and get snacks from vending machines. It is starting to look like NFC might actually take off in the United States now as well. Why? Well, not only are more and more NFC smartphones being released all the time (even the next iPhone may have it…stay tuned), but also Google introduced Google Wallet late last week.
Google Wallet is “an Android app that makes your phone your wallet. It stores virtual versions of your existing plastic cards on your phone. Simply tap your phone to pay and redeem offers using near field communication, or NFC.” And this is more than just another way for people to buy stuff. Google Wallet “will be able to do more than a regular wallet ever could, like storing thousands of payment cards and Google Offers but without the bulk. Eventually your loyalty cards, gift cards, receipts, boarding passes, tickets, even your keys will be seamlessly synced to your Google Wallet. And every offer and loyalty point will be redeemed automatically with a single tap via NFC.” With partners like Citi, Sprint, and MasterCard, and merchants like Subway, Macy’s, and Walgreens signed on to participate, it does look like Google Wallet (and/or future competitor apps) is destined to replace our old physical wallet. “Whoa, not so fast Ryan! Are you crazy!? What about security? This NFC replacing your wallet is crazy talk!” Maybe not. A four digit PIN is required to use Google Wallet, and if a user’s phone is stolen, a PIN is needed to access a user’s financial data on a separate, secure chip…if that chip is physically tampered with, it self-destructs. Compare that to a credit card…if my wallet is stolen, there is no PIN or self-destruct to protect my money! And, as Google points out, ten years ago, 70% of all individuals were afraid to buy stuff online, and now, over 70% of all individuals access their credit card information online.
Libraries should definitely be paying attention to apps like Google Wallet that utilize NFC technology. Before long, many of our patrons may begin to abandon their wallets for their NFC enabled smartphones and expect to be able to use them at libraries like they can at the Walgreens or Subway across the street. Hopefully, their libraries will be “yes” libraries that allow their users to store their library card in their smartphone wallet. Libraries already have some experience with apps like Key Ring that allow smartphone users to store a virtual library card on their smartphone. The good news about apps like Google Wallet (that use NFC) is that patron’s information will be much more secure and there is less of a chance of someone fraudulently using a patron’s library card compared to an app like Key Ring. And there are some potentially cool uses for NFC in libraries beyond replacing library cards. For example, perhaps patrons could tap a kiosk in the library with their smartphone to receive book recommendations based on their interests? Or maybe patrons could use their smartphone to quickly and easily check out books? What do you think? What is your opinion of NFC? What do you think of Google Wallet? When will we be seeing the use of NFC technology within libraries? How do you think it will be used in libraries?