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NFC tap-to-pay kit spreads its wings at IFA: Now used for audio

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The smart choice: opportunity from uncertainty

NFC is finally sneaking into a range of hardware, with Sony and Nokia emphasising the audio-pairing capabilities while everyone else is just sticks it in there for laughs.

Nokia hasn't announced its new Windows Phone yet, there's a teaser up for next week, but it has announced that such phones will pair with HARMAN speakers using an NFC tap. Meanwhile Sony is pushing NFC pairing as a key feature of its new Vaio family computer and all but the cheapest Xperia handset, while Samsung is just sticking NFC into everything in the expectation that applications will turn up later.

Which is fantastic news for NFC. The short-range, slow speed, radio technology has always lacked a killer application despite being awash with nice-to-have potential which becomes possible once the hardware is in place. At IFA, it seems, we're finally seeing NFC being built into devices as default, hopefully enabling some of the cool things NFC makes possible.

Nokia is a leader in the tech, and with a decent patent portfolio in the field it stands to gain from NFC's success. Nokia's Play 360 speakers, which will be supplanted by the HARMAN kit, are a case in point - tap an NFC handset on the speaker and it triggers Bluetooth pairing, but tap another speaker against the first and the two become left and right channels for proper stereo sound.

Anyone who's used DLNA will know the joy of throwing a YouTube video up into the living-room TV: its technology as it ought to be, but getting DLNA working the first time can be a pain so the concept of tapping a phone against a TV to link the two is very attractive.

Sony isn't promising to share video just yet, but "Sony One-touch" will pair devices to show pictures and stream audio. A Sony Xperia tapped against a Sony TV to display photographs is a compelling proposition, and one which will appeal to the least-technically-literate user.

NFC connections are neither fast nor long-range, the induction-power limits the range to a few centimetres and the speed is measured in Kilobytes, but the use of induction means the receiving device isn't consuming any power while at rest while the limited range prevents interference and mitigates security concerns. NFC's problem is that no-one has ever been able to work out what it's for.

We still don't have an answer to that, but following IFA and the launch of Windows 8 tablets and phones we'll have a lot more devices with which to try and find out. ®

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