When Google revealed its newest version of the Android operating system this week, Android 2.3, code-named “Gingerbread,” there was one slight disappointment: the highly anticipated NFC (near field communications) support was somewhat crippled. According to Google’s own Android 2.3 User’s Guide (PDF link), Gingerbread allows mobile phones with NFC chips to work as readers, but not as transmitters, the latter which would be a necessary component to any NFC-enabled mobile payments system.

As it turns out, this restriction is only temporary. Google will soon be rolling out software development kit (SDK) updates to support mobile payments and additional NFC services on a step-by-step basis.

NXP, the chip maker whose technology is found within the latest Google flagship phone, the Nexus S, has long been a champion of NFC, the short-range wireless communication technology that enables data exchanges between devices around 4 inches apart.

Now, NFC news site NearFieldCommmunicationsWorld.com, has learned from NXP that the Nexus S chips already have all the functionality needed to support a full range of NFC services. NXP also says that the protocol stack it developed for Google includes all the functionality any other handset maker would require to develop Android Gingerbread phones with full NFC support, too.

Full NFC Support Coming in Gingerbread Updates

Google will release software upgrades to Android 2.3 and other extensions to its SDK to enable the additional functions, says NXP. The only reason that Gingerbread is limited to just tag reading for now is because Google wanted to introduce NFC quickly.

NXP would not reveal when these updates would be rolled out, but Jeff Miles, the company’s director of mobile transactions, told NFC World that he expected them to be rolled out as updates to Gingerbread, as opposed to being components of the next major Android release.

Already, Google has launched a NFC program in conjunction with Google Places, which is providing businesses in Portland, Oregon with window decals embedded with the technology. Customers can tap their phones to the stickers to navigate to the Google Places page via their smartphone’s Web browser. This serves to introduce the technology with users, the majority of whom, here in the U.S., are unaware of how NFC works. As consumers become more comfortable using their phones as readers, it makes sense that the next logical step would be to enable the data to flow the other way, too.

sarah perez