New iPhone and The Case of Missing NFC

So the iPhone 5 doesn’t have NFC. Apple’s explanation is, basically, that Passbook is better and didn’t need it. I’d say this is more a case of Apple doing what they do: following by looking like they are leading. History has shown that Apple leads in some areas, but it is also more of a follower. Look at the history of the iPhone to see how this is true.

Sure, Apple can be a leader in fact from time to time. The iPad is a tablet unlike anything we’ve seen before (and you can hold the “Windows had a slate” assertions: those were nothing like the the iPad). But the iPhone has only really lead in terms of industrial design. The touch-based small tablet was done to great effect by Palm and Compaq, years before the iPhone. Android beat them to multi-core handsets. The iPhone was late to the 3G party. The iPhone camera is still largely playing catch-up. Other handsets offered newer versions of Bluetooth before the iPhone. Even something as mundane as copy-and-paste was available on other platforms before the iPhone.

Let’s face it, in Apple’s home market, NFC is still relatively rare. It is far from ubiquitous. In some cases, NFC technologies that were used (e.g. Shell’s EasyPay tag) are being discontinued, presumably in favour of something else. But look at the number of retailers offering NFC-based payments as a percentage of all retailers, at least in North America: it is still relatively rare. Given the current rarity of NFC in retail, it isn’t surprising that Apple would hold off on NFC. Adding the parts cost money. If the parts are required (or perceived as required), then the cost is necessary. But if the feature isn’t seen as a requirement, then why spend the money on the parts when the value of the product doesn’t increase accordingly?

If NFC were far more ubiquitous, then I pretty much guarantee that Apple would have included NFC. But the need just isn’t there yet, and Apple isn’t one to toss in hardware bits (which cost money) without being able to truly take advantage of them.