Analyst: Apple Unlikely to Support NFC in Next iPhone

Semiconductor suppliers will ship a forecasted 70 million NFC chips to phone manufacturers this year to incorporate in their handsets, but Apple will not be one of those device makers, believes UK-based research firm IMS Research.

“We speak to a whole range of suppliers in the industry, and the balance of opinion we’re getting from those who really count is it won’t be in there,” Alex Green, IMS senior research director, told NFC Times, referring to prospects for the next iPhone incorporating NFC.

Doubts from others also continue to grow that Apple will adopt NFC for its next iPhone, with a second analyst commenting that there was a “relatively low” probability that NFC would be included in the next-generation device, most often referred to as the iPhone 5.

U.S.-based Pyramid Research, which is estimating only 11.5 million NFC phones will be sold this year, said doubts over Apple’s NFC plans is one reason for the low projection.

The firm also recently adjusted the forecast on NFC phone sales downward after Nokia announced it would adopt Microsoft’s Windows Phone 7 platform, translating into fewer sales of Nokia Symbian phones that might support NFC this year. And such expected popular smartphones scheduled to include NFC as Samsung’s Galaxy S II are a bit late to market. Other big handset makers are expected to launch their NFC models even later in the year.

Nokia, in fact, had pledged that all new Symbian phones introduced this year would support NFC, but the Finland-based handset maker broke that pledge with its two latest Symbian models, announced earlier this month. Sources told NFC Times Nokia will come out with at least a couple more NFC-enabled Symbian smartphones this year.

Still, while there are NFC-enabled smartphones from different phone makers in the pipeline for release this year, there were still very few actually on the market as of late April, pointed out Stela Bokun, a senior analyst with Pyramid.

As for Apple, she noted that the company has applied for at least 20 patents involving NFC, so it is no sure thing the company will pass on NFC this year.

Apple Waiting for NFC to Mature?
But other NFC industry sources have told NFC Times that Apple is probably going to wait until next year to adopt NFC for its iPhone and possibly other devices.

The company probably does not believe NFC is ready for a rollout, say some of the sources. The infrastructure of readers and NFC tags remains relatively scarce, and the technology is only starting to be incorporated in smartphones from other manufacturers, they noted.

Apple usually isn’t the first to embrace a new technology anymore, instead waiting for it to mature to ensure a compelling user experience, they said.

That is despite plans by its chief rivals in the smartphone market, Google and Research in Motion, to roll out NFC this year.

Most expect Apple to adopt NFC in 2012, however.

“Next year, I’d be surprised if it’s not (in the iPhone),” said Green. “They’ve (probably) come pretty close to going with it this year.”

Others still believe an NFC-enabled iPhone is likely to happen this year, though not necessarily one that supports payment on a secure chip.

Einar Rosenberg, CTO for NFC application developer Narian Technologies and a veteran watcher of Apple and its possible NFC plans, noted that Apple recently was awarded a patent for its technology to embed RFID reader technology, or NFC, into the touch screen of a phone. The technology could be used to read RFID tags, for example.

“I don't believe that the iPhone 5 will have NFC payment, but I do believe there is a 60% chance that it will have either service discovery, peer-to-peer (communication), or both due to the recent patent win and the Japanese crisis giving them a delay on finalizing orders and manufacturing of components.”

The delay in procuring parts has generated rumors that the next iPhone will come out in September, later than its usual early-summer launch. This could give Apple extra time to make sure the NFC technology it incorporates in the iPhone is up to its specifications.

“If Apple does not include it in iPhone 5, I believe it will be solely based on its inability to get all the kinks worked out, hardware and software, to meet its launch deadline,” Mark Hung, research director for wireless at U.S.-based research and consulting firm Gartner told NFC Times.

Rumors on Top of Speculation
Apple’s NFC plans have been the subject of much rumor and speculation, most of it guessing that Apple would adopt the technology in its next iPhone. That followed false rumors Apple would go for NFC in 2010.

Moreover, many have speculated in recent months that the consumer electronics giant would use an NFC-enabled iPhone to get into the payments business.

Most of the rumors have been thinly sourced, however. The strongest evidence of Apple’s interest in NFC has been the numerous patents involving NFC the company has applied for. The NFC patent requests cover a range of uses, but one strong theme in them is Apple’s apparent interest in using NFC to enable customers to sync and share content among their Apple devices, with the iPhone serving as the hub.

But the rumor-mongering has gone far beyond the patent requests, and anticipation still runs high that Apple will adopt NFC this year.

Of course, with Apple’s super-secretive nature, NFC backers and other ardent observers of the mobile industry probably won’t know for sure whether the iPhone will incorporate NFC until the phone is actually announced.

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