Playing the field
While mobile CPUs and tablets hogged many of the headlines at MWC 2011, a significant sub-plot has been the use of the various other bits of technology we can now cram into a smartphone, or even integrated into the SoC.
With the launch of Android 2.3 - Gingerbread - NFC (near field communication) was launched into the mainstream consciousness. As you can imagine, no company was more profoundly affected by this than NFC chip specialist NXP.
Having spoken to NXP's Steve Owen at MWC 2010 about contactless payment, we caught up with him once more to find out more about the impact of the Gingerbread launch. "This launch has led to a proliferation of NFC awareness," said Owen. "It has legitimised NFC in the phone and it will be in Honeycomb. For us the discussion with customers has gone from ‘can we do it' to ‘how fast can NXP support us'."
In the build-up to the launch of Gingerbread, Google approached NXP and said that in order to participate in the new OS, it needed to make its software stack open source. This was no small decision for NXP has it was effectively being asked to give away a ton of software it has spent years developing, but it concluded the benefits more than justify the sacrifice.
"Google has a perception of a great user experience and they're dragging everyone else along with them," said Owen.
And while contactless payment remains the use-case of NFC with arguable the greatest potential, a lot of other applications are coming to the fore, which are easier to implement in the short/mid term. Owen had demo device that looked like a huge mouse mat, but which had a bunch of NFC chips embedded into it. Placing a Nexus S on top of one of the circles enabled an interaction between the phone and the chip.
Elsewhere on the NXP stand there were a bunch of other applications, such as a car that is unlocked by NFC, and then establishes an NFC-enabled instant Bluetooth pairing to allow the two-way exchange of data between the car and phone while driving. There's also a lot of LBS (location-based services) potential, for example tapping a Foursquare contact point to check in and qualify for special offers or free stuff.
We're clearly still just at the beginning of exploring what we can do with a smartphone and, increasingly, it looks like NFC will be in the middle of it. The only concern this raises is what the hell you do if you lose your phone...