In case you haven't heard, near field communications (NFC) is a hot technology right now and a number of influential companies are betting that it's going to play a prominent role in our lives in the future. From mobile payments and digital wallets to smart doors and interactive toys, NFC will be embedded throughout our lives, simplifying tasks and enabling us to do previously unimaginable things.

In a break-out session of the ReadWriteWeb 2Way Summit on Tuesday afternoon, a panel of experts discussed the many applications NFC will have in the future, with a focus, of course, on mobile payments.

The panel, which was moderated by Fortune magazine's Jessi Hempel, included James Anderson, Senior Vice President of Mobile at MasterCard; Intuit's Director of Strategic-Mobile Initiatives Omar Green; Qualcomm's Sy Choudhury and Rovio Product Manager Ramine Darabiha.

Anderson cited two recent events as evidence that NFC's tipping point may be about to come; The first was Google's inclusion of the technology in Android and the second was the announcement that AT&T, T-Mobile and Verizon would be creating an NFC-enabled mobile wallet system. More recently, of course, Google announced its own digital wallet. We should expect to see even more of these in the future. "Anyone who thinks they can build a wallet is going to build a wallet," said Green.

The most obvious impending application of the technology, the panelists agreed, was mobile payments. Within four years, about 50% of smart phones will support NFC, Choudhury said. Once enough devices include it and enough merchants are equipped with the hardware to read NFC chips, the act of paying for things by waving your phone will begin to approach mainstream status.

One potential challenge to the adoption of mobile payments is that mainstream consumers aren't necessarily clamoring to get rid of their wallets, Darabiha said. And while the average Joe may not know what "NFC" means, Rovio is nonetheless hoping to help push the technology toward the mainstream with Angry Birds Magic, a new product announced at the 2Way Summit that takes the popular mobile video game into the real world using NFC and GPS.

Other applications of NFC discussed were mass transit, health monitoring apps and the ways in which it could be used to facilitate "smart homes" with doors that not only unlock via NFC, but can also communicate with other items in the house.