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Smartphones as sensor platforms – near field communications

You may have heard that the new Google phone (called the Nexus S, built by Samsung) has built in near field communications (NFC).  You might not have heard yet the news from yesterday that Google is running an experimental local marketing campaign in Portland which uses the NFC capability.  Any business in Portland which has claimed its Google Places Page will be offered a pack of Google goodies which includes an NFC enabled window sticker, and consumers are being incentivised to leave reviews with a prize for the top reviewer.  People with a Nexus S or other NFC enabled phones will be able to bump their phones against the sticker to get information about the business and to leave reviews.

This is pretty cool as a local advertising play as it takes a lot of the friction out of leaving a review – ‘bump and type’ is a lot easier than ‘log in, search for restaurant, leave review’.  That said, having to walk to the entrance to bump your phone on the sticker is still a bit of a pain.

More interesting for me though is the wider potential for NFC, and what this implies for the role of smartphones in our lives. 

I’ve blogged before about the potential for smartphones to enable new categories of health apps, and NFC functionality brings that future a step closer as communication between third party sensors and the phone gets easier – and health apps aren’t the only, or even most obvious use case for NFC in phones.  Payments is probably the top of the list, with contact information sharing also up there.  Then there is all the stuff we haven’t thought of yet :).

All of this points to the smartphone becoming more and more important in our lives, to the point of indispensability (if it isn’t there already).  Also interesting is the way we are starting to depend on our phones in a social context, most commonly as a sort of outsourced memory – rather than hold facts in our brains we are increasingly doing a quick Google search, or looking someone up in our address book or email.

Aside from the big picture smartphone trends that this talks to it also interesting to look at this in the context of Google’s failed attempts to buy GroupOn and Yelp this year.  Leveraging their position in the smartphone market to help crack local advertising is an obvious thing to do.

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