Google is moving away from barcodes and towards NFC (near field communication) if a pair of stories about the search company are tied together. Yesterday, news broke out about Google’s decision to officially end support for the use of QR codes, the 2D barcodes readable by camera-equipped mobile phones, in its business listings service Google Places. Today, non-profit industry association NFC Forum announced that Google has joined its ranks as a new member with voting privileges.
If you’ve been waiting to see momentum surrounding NFC, here it is.
Killing the QR Code
Earlier this month, Mike Blumenthals of the “Understanding Google Maps & Local Search” blog noticed that business owners could no longer create a printable QR Code for their listing in Google Places. These codes had previously been used by merchants in advertising, on business cards, posters, signage and anywhere else a business wanted to advertise its Places page. This type of advertising helped to popularize the QR code with consumers.
Why, then, would Google kill it?
As it turns out, the missing feature wasn’t due to a bug, but an executive decision at Google to move beyond the barcode.
A company spokesperson provided Blumenthals with the following statement:
Users will no longer find unique QR codes in their Places accounts. We’re exploring new ways to enable customers to quickly and easily find information about local businesses from their mobile phones.
Instead: NFC in Google Places
The studious observer knows precisely what Google means when it says “new ways.” It means NFC.
NFC, which stands for “near field communication,” is a wireless technology that enables data exchanges over short distances. It’s the backbone of Google’s (reportedly in development) mobile wallet initiative with MasterCard and Citigroup.
It’s also the technology Google has been testing with its Hotpot program, a Yelp-like service that encourages local customers to rate and review their favorite restaurants, bars, shops and other local businesses. Now in its pilot phase, Hotpot merchants and business owners in Portland, Oregon have been provided with NFC-enabled window decals which would, when tapped with an NFC-enabled handset (or activated by waving the phone near the sticker), would link to the business’ Places page.
This week, that program expanded to Madison, Wisconsin. These businesses will also be received NFC-enabled window decals, says Google in its announcement.
Google Joins NFC Forum
In addition to the NFC support in Google’s Android mobile operating system, the NFC support in Google’s flagship phone, the Nexus S, the NFC-enabled window decals for Hotpot businesses and the reported NFC-enabled mobile wallet system, Google has now joined the industry group called the NFC Forum.
This non-profit association, created in 2004, is dedicated to advancing, standardizing and educating the market about the use of NFC technology. Today, 31 new members have signed up to join the organization, including Google. Intel and CSR also upped their membership level from Associate to Principal, meaning, like Google, they will now have voting rights and the ability to designate individuals to run for positions on committees and in working groups. Principal members can also propose initiatives for the organization to pursue.
It’s obvious why this move is notable for the industry, especially given Android’s market share. The Google-created mobile operating system is now the number one smartphone platform in the U.S., and number one or two worldwide, depending on which analyst firm’s figures you choose to believe.
NFC Doubters Come Out of Hiding
Despite the growing momentum surrounding NFC (we’ve been running a series on ReadWriteMobile, tracking the technology, for what it’s worth), not everyone is convinced of its potential.
Marty Beard, president of mobile messaging company Sybase 365, told the blog VentureBeat that the industry’s obsession with NFC is unjustified because it still hasn’t show how it is better than existing technologies.
Mike Rowehl agrees with Beard’s general sentiment. Rowehl, currently at mobile services-focused Churn Labs, the organizer of Silicon Valley’s Mobile Monday and who aids in the organization of Mobile 2.0 events, he recently blogged “Why I’m Crossing NFC Off My List.” He thinks that NFC technology is “headed for a brick wall” and simply “won’t work.”
That said, we’ve talked to a number of high profile companies working on NFC initiatives and will soon talk to more. So far, the list includes Visa, MasterCard, Bank of America, Wells Fargo, U.S. Bank, Chase, Intuit, Isis (a carrier-led mobile wallet service in the U.S.), ViVOtech, PayPal, NXP, VeriFone and others. If NFC fails, as doubters expect it will, it certainly won’t be for lacking of trying.