As anticipated, BlackBerry maker RIM has announced the launch of new smartphones with NFC (near field communication) capabilities at its BlackBerry World conference in Orlando, Florida today. The forthcoming BlackBerry Bold 9900 and the accompanying CDMA mode, the 9930, will support NFC read/write operations when they debut later this summer. RIM is also actively working on partnerships with banks and credit card companies, we're told, to offer mobile wallet and/or mobile payment functionalities, but has nothing specific to announce on that front at this time.
NFC is a short-range wireless technology that's now forming the backbone of upcoming mobile wallet systems in development from Google and Apple (reportedly), as well as those provided by mobile operators such as Isis here in the U.S. RIM's launch of NFC-capable phones means the handset maker also believes that NFC has a place in the future of mobile technology.
While primarily associated with mobile payment operations, NFC can actually be used for far more than replacing plastic credit cards. For example, with RIM's implementation, the company is promoting how NFC can be used to pair with supported accessories - for example, a Bluetooth headset. Instead of having to configure Bluetooth manually, a user would simply tap the headset with their mobile device.
RIM is also promoting how NFC can be used for reading smart tags - the read-only tags that, when tapped, launch associated content, like a URL, a movie trailer, a music track, etc. These tags are already in use by Google, which recently introduced them to its business listings service, Google Places, in lieu of barcodes. Registered Google Places businesses in select locations are being given NFC-enabled posters for display in their establishment's window. When tapped, the tags launch Google's Place page for that location. Any NFC phone can access these tags, of course, not just those running the NFC-capable version of Google's Android operating system on a supported NFC-enabled Android device, like the Google Nexus S.
RIM Working on Mobile Wallet?
As for RIM, the company cannot say what partnership talks surrounding NFC are in the works now, but it is "having conversations" with many industry partners, we're told by a company representative, including banks and credit card companies. RIM wants to make its system open so that partners can easily integrate with the phones' NFC capabilities for storing bank cards on the device.
There will also be NFC APIs (application programming interfaces) made available to third-party developers, which will allow them to build mobile applications that use the phones' NFC capabilities for "compelling future experiences," says RIM. Considering RIM's acquisition of several forward-thinking startups as of late, including social calendaring app Tungle, contact management service Gist and user interface design company TAT, there could be some "compelling experiences" using NFC from RIM itself, we imagine.