Why is Google's new Nexus S like no other smartphone?
First proper outing for NFC pay/scan/passcard tech
Google and Samsung have jointly announced the Nexus S, but the new flagship Android handset has more wireless than previously seen with Near Field Communications built in.
Google isn't trying to change the distribution model this time; the Nexus S will be sold in Carphone Warehouse and Best Buy stores, and will be available in the UK and US before Christmas. But it will also be the first mainstream phone packing NFC - no matter what Nokia says.
The Nexus S features a slightly curved screen – to better fit in the hand and against the face – which will either be annoying or a revelation: we won't know until we see it. It also has the latest Hummingbird 1GHz processor, and suitably fast graphics, but it's the inclusion of Near Field Communications that is most interesting. NFC has been a feature of a few Nokia handsets, and one or two from Samsung, but those have been limited to technical trials and demonstrations, and none has had an open API allowing developers to really play with the technology.
NFC enables short-range communication for reading radio tags on posters and the like, as well as enabling proximity payment systems such as London's Oyster card system and credit-card-based technologies including Visa's PayWave and Mastercard PayPass. NFC, or N-Mark as the standard is properly known, includes both an induction-powered tag and a tag-reader, and so it can operate as either. The use of induction means the tag can be read when the phone's battery is dead, and limits the range hugely, but it is the other part of the NFC architecture that remains obscure in the Nexus S.
Payment systems need a secure vault on the device, and there's been much debate over who should, and would, hold the keys to that vault. Google would be the obvious key-holder in this case, though we don't know if it is this time around. The NFC chip in the Nexus S is a P544 from NXP, which supports the Single Wire Protocol - enabling the network operator to hold a secure vault on the SIM chip. That would seem to present an opportunity to the network operators, assuming the SWP is enabled in the Nexus S (we're still checking with Samsung), though it is possible Google has another secure vault on the device, or is planning to pursue a tokenised approach (authenticated in the cloud - such as that deployed by Bling Nation), which would render the secure vault redundant.
Either way, the open API and active Android development community should see NFC finally getting some fun applications showing off what the technology is capable of, and something cool for the early adopters to show off just before Christmas. ®