As the anticipation of a new iPhone model builds around this time every year, speculation follows involving one technology that seems like it’s doomed to forever be considered “emerging” – near field communication.
The technology, based on standards that enable the exchange of information between two devices within close proximity of each other, is mostly touted for its potential to facilitate mobile payments. The idea is that NFC will finally turn smartphones into digital wallets.
It’s already done that for some phones, but if NFC is going to be successful, it will likely need to find its way into the world’s most popular smartphone. That’s where the iPhone hype comes in. In the same week that Apple has invited the media to its next iPhone event, both Business Insider and Wired have independently reported that the upcoming iPhone will finally support NFC.
This is remarkable considering Apple snubbed NFC in the iPhone 5s, which was widely expected to be the first of the company's phones to feature the technology, almost a year ago. Shortly after the launch, All Things D reported that Apple senior vice president Phil Schiller said the technology did not appear to be a clear solution to any problem. That seemed like a deathblow to NFC, even though both Google and mobile payment company Isis had already embraced the technology for payments.
Even so, the new reports have reignited an interest in NFC that appears, at least in Google search results, to live and die with its rumored ties to Apple’s smartphone.
Below you’ll see Google Trends results comparing searches for “near field communication” (in red) and “nfc iphone” (in blue) from January through September 2012, as many expected the iPhone 5 (introduced in mid-September) to be the first model to boast NFC functionality.
As you can see, searches for "nfc iphone" spiked in the last week of August 2012, a time when iPhone rumors break through the tech media and spark interest among everyday smartphone users interested in what might soon be on the market. In fact, searches for "nfc iphone" in that week grew even though interest in "near field communication" didn't.
However, the iPhone 5 announcement came and went without a mention of NFC, leading many in the following year to assume the next iPhone models – the iPhone 5s and 5c, released in mid-September 2013 – to feature NFC. Although some had learned from the past and remained doubtful, others linked the two technologies once again.
Here you’ll see Google Trends results for “nfc communication” and “nfc iphone” from January to September 2013.
The only difference in 2013 was that interest in NFC for iPhone spiked a few weeks earlier. This is likely because the first snub, in 2012, introduced the technology to the world, making rumors about its potential role with the iPhone 5s all the more valuable.
This isn't to say that all iPhone rumors are wrong (although a lot of them have been in the past), nor to cast doubt on the reports at Wired or Business Insider. I just wanted to point out a funny trend I’ve seen. Part of me hopes Apple leaves NFC out of the iPhone 6 just so we can see if this speculation returns in 2015.