Apple finally embraces NFC with their iPhone 6


The adoption of NFC by Apple has now sealed its success as the hot new technology marketers will demand.

Up until now, the biggest block for brands adopting NFC (Near Field Communications) has been more in the mind than in  reality, and that’s Apple not having it. So despite over 20 million existing Android smartphone users having it in the UK, there has been a mental barrier to taking the plunge.

But Tim Cook has now sealed the future success of NFC, a technology that has been widely used across many areas for over a decade, from ticketing to security, hospitals to touch payments.

It’s what’s in your Oyster card, VISA debit card and that security card you swipe to get in the office. It’s cheap, easy to use and very versatile.

But now iPhone has given into both market forces and common sense and finally adopted NFC there will be a gold rush to use NFC in marketing, retail and for payments.

Even though the initial Apple Pay launch is in the US, the UK is one of Apple’s most important European markets.

NFC – the new technology of marketing

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Personally I’d buy shares in Clear Channel who are the leaders in adopting this technology in the media field and have installed it on over 25,000 posters on Adshels across the UK. Even though Apple’s adoption is driven by payments, it means new generation iPhone users will be able to literally tap into the benefits of NFC and that will give brands confidence to build it into their marketing approach.

Given that 88.5% of retail spend is off line (official government statistics) making poster in high street’s active to smart phones with NFC is a stroke of genius. It means we can look, tap and act.

It delivers what all brands want from media like outdoor, engagement through the mobile, which is why I predict it will become a technology that will be integral in all outdoor campaigns and in retail within a few years. I’m not just saying that as one of the industries leading champions of NFC, I think the facts would predict that too.

But brand managers should pause a moment and carefully consider how they use it before they rush to adopt it, as 80% of existing campaigns using it do so badly. As a ‘pull’ technology you need great thinking and creativity to drive consumers to tap. Like any technology, it needs to create a need and desire to be useful to consumers, people won’t tap for the sake of it.

Diageo is another brand one step ahead of the game, Guinness have installed over 80,000 beer pumps with it.

Many retailers, unimpressed with beacons (BLE), are experimenting with it. Of course one of the beauties of NFC is that it doesn’t have to integrate with the IT architecture (unlike BLE), a stumbling block for many technologies. As it remains independent it can link to the marketing departments assets, mainly websites.

For retailers it offers a cheap and flexible way to allow consumer to interact with tags from checking in as you walk through the door to collect loyalty points to getting information about any item in the store.

Take a brand like IKEA, if every item was NFC tagged you’d be able to just tap and access every single piece of information about any item like a sofa – size, colour range, stock levels, what other items people also bought and even if it’d fit into a Ford Focus. It’s simple example I use when doing talks about NFC to show how simply NFC can enhance the consumer experience in retail.

Another example I use is if Zara tagged all their clothes, one tap and you’d be able to check sizes, colour, accessories, stock and get offers. Plus share with friends to validate your decision.

I also predict that retailer’s mobile websites will be built around NFC tags because it will become the simplest way to get a consumer engaged, one tap and you’ve tapped into the consumer.

Apple Pay


The inclusion of NFC in the new iPhones means that the technology is now supported by all the world’s major phone makers. The driving factor has been financial –  “It’s all about the wallet. Our ambition is to replace this.”  CEO Tim Cook commented in his introduction. But now Apple has NFC it can do a lot more and opens up great marketing possibilities.

Almost a quarter of a million retailers will be able to accept touch payments, including McDonald’s, Subway, Staples, Whole Foods Market, Disney and many more. Even Groupon has jumped on the Apple bandwagon and incorporated Apple Pay into its app.

“Payments is a huge business,” Cook commented. “Everyday, between credit and debit, we spend $12bn. That’s over four trillion dollars a year and that’s just in the United States. And this business is comprised of over 200,000,000 transactions a day. That’s 200,000,000 times that we scramble for our credit cards and go through what is a fairly antiquated payment process.


Surprisingly Cook made no reference to their hyped up BLE technology, which despite a few brands adopting it has unimpressed many others, described by one retailer at the Retail Forum as “the equivalent of a pushy sales assistant… more likely to scare customers away.”

Apple Watch


It seems that their watch will also adopt Apple Pay so will also be fitted with NFC.

A different Apple

So despite the strong anti NFC voice of members of the ‘church of Apple’ and cynics who said Apple would never adopt NFC, market forces have proved them all wrong. Even I can say “I told you so”.

But then Apple is now run buy accountants and lawyers and knows it cannot remain arrogant or isolated in such a volatile market, especially when it’s struggling in new territories and globally is not as a big a player as many think.

Remember when we all had a Nokia? Well times change fast, even for the leaders and the mover and shakers and for Apple it’s now as much about keeping up as keeping ahead. Especially as the era of consumers being amazed by technology is wearing off as we have become technology fatigued.


Transcript of Tim Cook’s speech.

All about NFC

  • wooshping

    Good post Chris. However at this stage I am not clear that Apple have implemented the whole suite of NFC support. Just like their limited Bluetooth support, I wonder if their NFC implemented is currently limited to payments only.
    If this is the case we’ll see a lot of Apple users waving their phones furiously over opportunities to engage without anything happening. Clearly it will be the marketeers fault for not implementing things correctly and we’ll have to wait for Apple to fix the issue, but in the meantime it could still be both irritating and confusing for the end user and stall use and adoption of NFC for further engagement opportunities.
    I may of course be wrong. It could support the full suit of NFC services, but nothing I have read over the last 12 hours gives me any cause to believe that is the case.

  • Chris Arnold

    I believe that as there’s pressure for Apple to compete and keep up with Samsung and others, they will implement the whole suite of NFC. I think now that the mental barrier is gone, though it’s going to take a while for there to be enough users, I believe the industry needs to unite in giving NFC a big push in 2015.
    So maybe time for another gathering of those in the NFC area, as we all did at the DMA with the NFC Forum.

  • Katey Walter

    I think the flood gates are open and NFC will take off in 2015 big time. You are right Chris, the barrier has been in the head.

  • Katey Walter

    The other good thing about NFC is that it is a very establish technology and used by us all dozens of times a day, but it hasn’t been pushed as a gimmick like AR was.

  • Katey Walter

    Why hasn’t brands like IKEA adopted it? Would make my life a lot easier in what must be the most consumer unfriendly stores of all.

  • tundec

    iBeacons do not have to link in with the existing IT structure. The user’s phone does that for them. Just as with NFC. In this way there is no difference. The intelegence is in how you serve new or existing media based on user profile and history. iBeacons do have the advantage of working at a distance and allowing different responses based on how near the user is to the beacon.

    I think Apple faced an uphill struggle to get enough retailers to install bluetooth solutions for payment, and are pragmatic in adopting NFC. However it is a case of the less capable solution winning, VHS wins again.