Startup general interest

Smartphones as sensor platforms

By October 6, 2010 3 Comments

One of the interesting areas for the future development of smartphones is as sensor platforms.  I’ve written before about how that might work in consumer health, and Fast Company has an article today about how it might work in consumer finance:

RFID credit cards are on the way. RFID means you’ll be able to pay wirelessly by waving a card over a panel at the point of sale–and in its most sophisticated version this will allow a store’s computers to interact with your RFID-enabled smartphone

This is exciting for a number of reasons – as well as the basic point of not having to carry credit cards and ultimately finally making money entirely virtual it will enable far more sophisticated coupon and loyalty schemes that will be zero hassle for the consumer.

Key to the success of this vision will be retailers rolling out point of sale terminals that can interact with these RFID enabled smartphones.  Something which might not happen quickly.

We can see the beginnings of this future vision today in the PayPal iPhone app which allows phone to phone transfers by ‘bumping’ phones against each other. As a sidebar, Paypal have just added cheque scanning to their iPhone app which makes use of a sensor that is already built into the phone – the camera (only available in the US).  Similarly the Square is a pointer of things to come.

Turning to when we might see RFID in smartphones, Nokia is rumoured to have something in the works and the iPhone 5 (due out next year) will have an RFID enabled screen.  In fact Apple have taken out a patent on the the design, see the picture below.


Sensors in smartphones now include accelerometers, cameras, microphones, and bluetooth, and on top of that there is the potential to plug into other sensors (the Square plugs into the headphone socket).  I’m starting to think that services taking advantage of these sensors and others that will come as well (biometric, infrared) as the link back to the internet could drive an awful lot of startup activity over the next five to ten years.

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