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Who needs a million NFC tags?

Someone has bought them, but what for?

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Someone is planning a big slash into the Near Field market, bundling more than a million NFC tags with handsets over the next six months, according to tag supplier Identive.

The company has announced the order, placed by a "leading mobile handset manufacturer" which will put them into phone boxes to "enhance consumers' day-to-day mobile experience". Beyond that, Identive is only saying that the order will take six months to complete, and will be provisioned through the company's Smartag subsidiary, though the last detail is important, as Smartag already counts Google as a customer.

It's easy to imagine tags being dropped into boxes with an NFC handset, in the hope that end users will develop a practical application or two for the technology while the manufacturers still struggle to see what NFC is for.

Tags can be read, or (optionally) written to, by waving a handset nearby. Once read, the tag can launch an app on the phone, or visit a specific URL, and it's possible that the unnamed manufacturer intends to pre-program the bundled tags with links to its own services – but that would be technology just for the sake of it. More likely the tags will be write enabled and come with suggested uses and the hope that users will create their own.

It's not the first time this has been tried: Violet's Mir:ror did much the same thing for a PC, and is no longer with us. Thanks to the backing of Alcatel-Lucent Touchatag lingers on, but despite years of playing and €5,000 in prizes a month, it has not created a killer application.

Nokia has shown how NFC can be used to reroute a music stream by tapping a handset against a speaker, and one imagines that video will soon follow, but it's really hard to think of a good reason why one would want to program one's own tags.

Nokia's interest in NFC, and lack of obvious progress in proximity payments, would seem to make them the perfect customer for bundling NFC tags with handsets to see what customers do with them.

Smartag has, on the other hand, already supplied tags to Google, for Google Places, so there's already a business relationship there.

Apple is a nice thought, but giving technology to users to see what happens isn't the Apple way, and a million tags would seem insufficient for any iPhone 5 launch.

But whoever placed the order, it is obvious there will be a lot more NFC tags around over the next 12 months. Now we just have to think of something worth doing with them... ®

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