NFC/Bluetooth sticker goes into production
Point of this is a sticky issue
A sticker packed with Bluetooth and NFC (Near Field Communications) is an impressive thing, but regular charging and manual operation could make NFC more difficult to use than cash.
That's not going to stop Twinlinx, which has been telling NFC Times that its MyMAX sticker will be shipping next month for those who don't mind putting a 2.5mm thick sticker on the back of their phones, pressing a button every time they want to use it, and paying €20 for the privilege.
The company will be running trials this summer, having manufactured 4000 stickers as a starting run. By the end of the year tens of thousands of the stickers will be rolling off the production line for customers crying out for Bluetooth/NFC hybrids.
Stickers using NFC are a nice idea - proximity payment systems, such as London's Oyster Card or Hong Kong's Octopus, can be replicated as a sticker that one attaches to a bag, key fob, or the back of one's phone, enabling that item to be used as an electronic wallet. That doesn’t add any functionality, it just changes the form factor.
Twinlinx reckons that by packing Bluetooth into the sticker, as well as NFC, it can communicate with the majority of handsets to present menus and information to the user.
The more observant reader will have noticed that while a passive NFC tag can be powered by induced current from the reader, Bluetooth needs more current that that, so this sticker has to pack a battery too. That makes it rather bulkier than the alternatives - 2.5mm according to NFC Times (though the company's specs say 1.8mm) - which is technically impressive, but never going to fly as a product even if that was the only problem.
Having a battery means it must be recharged: there's a solar panel for that, and we can only hope it works though windows, and pockets. Once fully charged the phone can talk to the sticker 300 times - the connection uses the Bluetooth WAP Profile; we've never seen that profile used in anger, but hopefully implementations still follow the standard. Battery life is rated in uses, rather than time, 'cos the user needs to switch the sticker on before the phone can talk to it - yes, this sticker has a switch on it.
Having a Bluetooth stack, a mechanical switch, a battery and a solar panel doesn't make the MyMAX a cheap option - it'll be around €20 a sticker, though the manufacturers hope to halve that and optimistically point out that it's still much cheaper than buying a new phone.
But if you're prepared to pay €20 to have 2.5mm of bulk stuck to the back of your phone, just so that you can see your remaining balance when you've pressed the button, then perhaps the MyMAX is for you - and Twinlinx will be hoping there are a lot of you out there. ®
What we really need...
... are more of those EUR 20 phones that look and work reasonably well.
That proximity payment thing is yet another retailers' wet dream -- and banks', showing you where your bank's loyalty lies. Not to put too fine a point on it: Not with you. Even if everything but the consumer is called a product (like ``travel product'' for what normal people call a train ticket, or ``financial product'' for your bank doing you a service), none of those things actually are what it says on the tin. Modern consumerism means the consumer is the product.
And why is proximity payment such a wonderful tool of consumerism, you ask? Well, look at what it does. It hides how much credit is on it, quite contrary to the immediate look and feel of cash. There's a reason Scrooge McDuck doesn't swim in plastic. It lets ``black'' transaction processing boxes keep score instead of your money counting fingers. It lets people with those boxes dip money right out of your pocket. And if anything goes wrong, well, it's up to you to disprove their claim their gear works Just Fine and losing the credit isn't your own damn fault, stupid consumer. Nobody else is complaining, no? Must be you then. Cheerio!
That doesn't even begin to touch on the privacy aspects, which us-the-consumers tend to forget exactly because all the processing happens out of our eyesight. Transactions flit to and fro and do you know who has the logs? The merchant, their bank, your bank, but not you. And how long do they keep them? Even a month's worth means being able to track almost to the metre where you've been, just by looking at timestamps and locations, nevermind chalking up what you've bought. In reality it won't be a month, but more like the better part of the decade. Tax rules, you see. So anyone from police inspector to private eye, if they find any copy of the transaction logs they can divine what you've been up to.
Often even if your name isn't attached to the proximity card (and how would you keep your name off it? Charge it with chip and pin just once and it's recorded *somewhere*), it's not too difficult to sort out who you are. How many people get on the tube where you live and get off where you work each day? Probably not too many. Look at what you do in the week-ends, correlate with where your kin live, done. You already leave far more of a paper trail than you realise, but the difference with days of yonder is that we have much more electronics to gather the trail and stuff it in databases. Oh, passports' RFID chips use the same ISO protocols, by the by. Who is to say a rogue reader wouldn't stop at reading oyster cards?
Shirley they won't do that! you say. You'd rather wait for a tip-of-the-iceberg scandal to wake you up, then?
It isn't that it won't be done. Appeals to common sense and common decency don't work on crooks. That's why they're crooks, even if they happen to be fully legitimate or even run the government. It's that these things _can_ be abused, in theory and increasingly in practice. And that makes them badly designed bad ideas.
Power needed anyway
The device can actually work as a passive tag or as a reader, so a power supply is needed regardless of Bluetooth. Makes sense, because as a passive tag it would have nothing to send to the phone via Bluetooth.
The only way that comes to (my) mind for the thing to use Bluetooth with a passive tag is to dynamically change the content of the tag while the instructions for the change would be passed from the phone to the tag by Bluetooth.
> iPhone, iPod and iPad do NOT support the WAP Bluetooth profile
With Apple retrospectively patenting everything NFC related, why risk it?