Google Feb. 9 improved the near field communications capabilities in its Android 2.3 operating system, the latest move by a company intent on seizing on the mobile payment boon.
Near field communications, or NFC, triggers the exchange of data between two devices placed within a few inches of one another. For example, a user might put a mobile phone equipped with NFC sensors up to a poster or ad to scan it for more info.
Smartphones in Asia and Europe include NFC sensors, controller chips and other software to allow consumers to swipe their phones again payment terminals to pay for goods. This is particularly popular for public transport systems, such as subways, where travelers swipe their phone against a terminal to ride the rails.
This practice has been slow to catch on in the United States, but analysts expect it could soar to be a multi-billion-dollar business if implemented en masse.
Google accelerated its NFC progress by adding an NFC reader/writer API to the fresh Android 2.3.3 build that lets apps interact with more types of tags in new ways. Previously, Android 2.3 only supporting reading capabilities.
There is also now limited support for peer-to-peer connection with other NFC devices.
Also, the Android team dropped in "advanced Intent dispatching," to give apps more control over how/when they are launched when an NFC tag comes into range, explained Android platform lead Xavier Ducrohet. Google has a detailed overview of Android 2.3.3 here.
The refresh, whose value will only be demonstrated in mobile apps Android developers craft, comes as Google is reportedly building a mobile payment service centered on NFC capabilities it developed in-house after the August acquisition of Zetawire.
The mobile payment stakes are high. Those who can get it right stand to keep customers, and their billing data, nestled comfortably in their platforms for years to come.
To wit, Apple is also working to bring NFC capabilities to its iPad 2 and iPhone 5, and RIM plans to have a play here as well this year. eBay's PayPal unit is also pushing mobile payments.