How Apple made 2020 the year of NFC

I'm no Apple fanboy - I take a very dim view on the Hong Kong scandal and yes, the MacBook Pro keyboard is terrible - but it's worth acknowledging Apple's decades of work in computing.

Over the years, they've brought us some of the finest examples of HCI (human computer interaction) at scale: interfaces and patterns which have taken us beyond the keyboard and mouse to using our fingers and face without a second of thought.

To recap, from the iPod click wheel, the magic mouse, the trackpad - clearly not the first but a decade later still the best - to Face ID and multitouch - just to name the ones I can think of at 23:17 on a Monday night.

And once more, Apple did something fantastically non-obvious when they made the iPhone 11. They made the next leap in HCI. They gave us NFC - the technology behind contactless payments and London's metro oyster cards.

Apple iPhone X with NFC notification

"Wait a second! I've been using my iPhone X to pay for things for a year!" Yes, Apple obviously didn't invent NFC in 2019. NFC was invented 15 years ago, a whole 8 years before I could buy my own alcohol - and yes, even the iPhone 8 supports contactless payments. So why is the iPhone 11 so significant in NFC becoming a mainstream interface?

The clue is an extra missing word: background. Background NFC means the iPhone 11 NFC reader is always on when the phone is unlocked.

Let's talk a bit about why that's so important.

It's because sometimes the blocker to technology taking off is ease of use. Remember those giant cell phones in the 80s? Neither do I, but I promise you I wouldn't take one on holiday with me. Now? We're tweeting from jail. The technology isn't fundamentally different; we just made it easier to use and made an application layer.

Before I go on, time for another big word alert - application layer!? Well, a phone with a SIM card and an Internet connection isn't all that useful if there's no applications. Twitter, Facebook (really?) - these apps are the real billion dollar superstars. They don't have to make anything physical! They sit in the application layer on top of interaction, networking and a handful of other useful innovations, which alone mean little, but with apps, mean a lot.

Phew. So.

It's hard to describe how important how important background NFC is in enhancing NFC's ease of use, and, its mainstream adoption. iPhone 11 makes it so easy to interact with NFC tags, stickers, things - nearly anything (!). And it's likewise hard to describe, in turn, how important this ease of use is for an application layer to take off.

It wasn't better people that made Tinder more successful than OkCupid, it was an iconic interface.

I swipe right, cause I see just what I like Baby, I tap twice for you Cause we're living in a new age It's called digital It's called digital love, love
Digital Love, Digital Farm Animals

And NFC? iPhone 11 is just the start.