Nokia Takes New Approach to Promoting NFC

Aug 18 2011

MONACO – The NFC ecosystem has been preoccupied with payment and other applications that require a secure element, according to Nokia, which Wednesday unveiled its new focus on NFC applications it says can be rolled out quickly.

The handset maker also released more details of NFC support for its C7 Symbian phone, including an NFC version of the popular Angry Birds video game that will be preloaded on the phones.

But Nokia also confirmed there will be no NFC chips in its next two Symbian phones, the Nokia E6 and X7, which it announced last week. And it declined to reveal plans for putting NFC into other Symbian handsets or its planned Windows Phone devices.

“We must focus on open and secure; anyone who focuses only on secure is missing an enormous opportunity,” said Mark Selby, Nokia’s vice president for industry collaborations, speaking at the WIMA NFC conference in Monaco.

NFC services that do not require applications to be securely stored on SIM cards, embedded chips or other secure elements will account for 68% of the value of the NFC market in 2013, Nokia estimates, according to Selby. Applications on secure elements would make up the remaining 32%.

These “open” NFC services use tag-reading or peer-to-peer communication features on NFC phones, such those involving consumers tapping their phones on smart posters to download coupons or on packages to receive product information. Or they would tap tags to check in on social networking sites. The services also could include payment and ticketing using the NFC tag-reading or P2P modes, with security not on a secure chip but based in the cloud, said Selby.

But the applications do not include those that use card emulation, that is, the NFC phone acting like a contactless payment or transit card. This requires a secure chip in the phones and usually an expensive infrastructure of readers at the point of sale or ticket gates.

“I’m not saying secure NFC is bad,” said Selby. “(Just) do not focus exclusively on that area because it is the smaller (opportunity),” he said. “Whether I’m talking about Groupon, Foursquare or Facebook, there is an extraordinary value, and NFC has a role to play in this.”

He declined to reveal Nokia’s estimate for the total NFC market in 2013

Nokia is not supporting card emulation in its C7, not even on separate SIM cards. But Selby told NFC Times that Nokia continues to plan NFC phones as “secure-element devices.”

“And we will be working on single-wire protocol and those devices. Announcements will come in the future,” he said, referring to the SWP standard enabling secure NFC applications to be loaded onto SIMs and communicate with NFC chips.

A source told NFC Times that Nokia plans to announce one or two other Symbian NFC devices in the next three months.

Nokia, in general, has said it plans to produce Symbian phones this year and next, despite its move to the Windows Phone 7 platform. As NFC Times has reported, Microsoft plans to incorporate NFC in Windows Phone.

The lack of NFC support in the E6 and X7, however, runs contrary to a pledge Nokia made last fall that all new Symbian phones announced in 2011 would support NFC. Selby pointed out that the pledge was made by Nokia’s former head of mobile solutions, Anssi Vanjoki. Vanjoki abruptly resigned just before the Nokia World conference in September. He had been passed over when Nokia appointed former Microsoft executive Stephen Elop as its CEO.

“You will also have been aware, we have announced devices before and not shipped them,” Selby said, adding to NFC Times: “(NFC) devices are coming from us and from others. They’re coming.”

NFC Support for the C7
Meanwhile, Nokia confirmed Wednesday that the latest version of the Symbian operating system, nicknamed Anna, supports NFC. That new version will be released in a few weeks and all new C7s will come with it. Existing C7s can be upgraded over the air, so there will be millions of C7 NFC phones in the market this year that could do tag reading and P2P communication. Nokia started shipping the C7 last fall without the NFC functionality turned on. Update: Nokia only released Anna for over-the-air update Aug. 18, five months after it originally announced the update.  End update.

Nokia is also trying to build excitement among developers for creating NFC applications for the C7 and future Symbian NFC phones, a task made more difficult because Nokia’s move to Windows likely sounds the death knell for the Symbian platform.

The handset maker is making a software development kit and tutorials available for NFC app developers. And at WIMA, Nokia held developer training sessions at which it handed out free C7s to at least 100 attendees, said one attendee. The phones retail for about $400 apiece.

Nokia has also contracted with some development firms to create applications for the Symbian NFC phones. And in the pack consumers receive with the C7, it has included a contactless gift card for its Ovi app store.

By touching the phone to the card, users will be able to get access directly to NFC apps, without having to search the store. The card, which sends a URL to the phone, could combine with the users’ phone numbers to deliver local apps and content, said Jeremy Belostock, head of NFC at Nokia.

“We have taken what was digitally in the store and now made it physical,” said Belostock, speaking at WIMA. 

Seeking Interest from ‘Pig Pelters’
In addition to Angry Birds, other mobile games or NFC apps will be preloaded on the C7, including the Asphalt 5 racing game, he said.

Angry Birds, from Finland-based Rovio Mobile, reportedly surpassed 100 million downloads recently. Players try to advance to the next level by launching birds, mainly at pigs or pig enclosures.

Nokia approached Rovio to create an NFC version of the popular game and to launch it on the C7, Rovio marketing manager Matthew Wilson told NFC Times.

According to a Nokia blog post Tuesday, after advancing to the fifth level, players with NFC phones could tap them to the NFC phones of friends to unlock up to 15 more levels. They also could unlock levels by tapping tags embedded in certain objects. These will include Angry Bird plush toys, said Wilson. The Angry Bird “Magic” NFC version would be available on other NFC-enabled Nokia phones in 2011, said Nokia.

Wilson, also speaking at WIMA, said the main goal of putting NFC in the game was to “add a social element.”

“We’re excited about using Angry Birds Magic in Nokia devices and hope to bring it to all NFC devices and make NFC important for gaming,” he said.

Tapping tags in objects, such as Angry Bird toys or toy displays, could bring other rewards, such as in-game money. Rovio is thinking about other possible connections between the video game and physical world, said Wilson.

“One day, this could be a ‘magic bad piggy bank’–simply go to Starbucks and tap the phone, and the payment would come off phone bill,” he said, adding that no plans for real-world payment are imminent.

Wilson told NFC Times an NFC version of Angry Birds for Android phones could be available soon. But the company has committed to launching it first with Nokia. Rovio also would promote the NFC angle in Nokia shops, probably with Angry Bird toys that would come embedded with NFC tags.

But he declined to say how much Nokia is paying Rovio to enlist the support of the Angry Birds for the handset maker’s new approach to promoting NFC.

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