Apple Pay – bringing proximity marketing ever closer

The iPhone 6 launch event in Cupertino, California on 9th September 2014 brought with it all manner of revelations, from a huge new smartphone to the unveiling of the long awaited Apple Watch.

However the innovation that was of most interest to the marketing and retail communities was Apple’s announcement of  its new Apple Pay card processing system, which meant the tech giant had finally incorporate near-field-communication (NFC) technology.

While NFC card payments are nothing new with Visa and Mastercard having launched touch-to-pay schemes some time ago, this development finally enables iPhone users to pay for their shopping by tapping their handset at a checkout.

Apple’s much anticipated arrival into the NFC arena has ability to further drive the capabilities of the technology across the communications landscape.

Apple – late to the NFC party

The iPhone 6 will be the first handset out of Cupertino to ship with NFC capabilities, long after rivals like Motorola and Samsung first adopted the technology. The initial implementation is reserved strictly for Apple Pay too – at present the NFC chipset remains off-limits for developers who would otherwise exploit the “tap” capabilities.

This is not the first time that Apple has taken an established technology and heavily limited its use. At the launch of the iPhone 3 for instance, Bluetooth functionality was severely restricted to the point that data transfer between devices was impossible.

Apple iBeacon – modernising Push marketing

Over time, Apple has slowly refined Bluetooth implementations and opened developer Applications Programing Interfaces (APIs) to create a pleasant, powerful user experience. This slow but steady approach has helped build genuinely useful tools like AirDrop (which allows wireless transfer of files and contacts between devices) and iBeacon, the internal positioning and marketing platform.

By focusing so hard on low energy Bluetooth, it looked as though Apple had given up on NFC before even trialling the technology, deciding to follow traditional ‘Push marketing’ methodology. But the addition of an NFC chipset to the iPhone 6 can be considered a significant, and exciting, development.

Apple NFC – adding Pull marketing to the mix

In the age of targeted marketing, consumers are increasingly disinterested in general broadcast marketing – particularly if it is uninvited. NFC smartposters operate on a ‘Pull basis’ – shoppers have to choose to tap their device on the wireless tag in order to access additional content or marketing messages. In choosing to tap the smartposter, the consumer is opting-in – pulling the data, rather than having it pushed at them – on their own terms.

One of the biggest barriers to NFC adoption by consumers is simply unfamiliarity. Most have grasped the concept of tapping contactless credit cards or Oyster travel passes, but few have made the transition to using their smartphone for the same tasks. However Apple’s success in convincing users to adopt new technologies and ways of working could be the differentiating factor this time.

If Apple can get their users in the habit of tapping their phones on pay points – perhaps through exclusive offers and free incentives – there’s an equally good chance they will begin tapping on smart posters once the technology is de-restricted.

NFC – there’s life in the old dog yet

It appears that plans are already afoot for opening NFC capabilities to developers at some point in the near future. Apple has already demonstrated how an NFC-enabled iPhone could provide access to a hotel room, for instance.

More importantly still, the use of Bluetooth and NFC allow marketers to implement the right digital technology for the right scenario. At times the Push format of iBeacon will be exactly what the consumer is looking for – such as Apple are using in their own stores to communicate with loyal customers. In other situations, where businesses need to take a less intrusive approach, Pull-based NFC smartposters allow customers to control their interactions.

If the iPhone is to remain Apple customers’ definitive communications device, opening NFC for other uses is more a case of ‘when’ than ‘if’. For shoppers, the ability to engage with brands in a number of innovative ways gives them greater control over the relationship and the messages that they receive. With consumers more marketing savvy than ever, this often yields far superior response rates.

With more than a billion NFC-enabled mobile devices in use by 2015 globally, Apple’s adoption of NFC makes it omnipresent on the major smartphone platform, and the possibilities for retailers and marketers are boundless.

Signbox has long recognised the potential of NFC and is perennially at the vanguard of incorporating innovative technologies and applications for its customers’ businesses.

From consumer-facing smart poster campaigns for leading brands and retailers to ultra-flexible NFC-enabled Smartsticker products to make key Point-of-Sale (POS)/information points interactive, Signbox works with a range of NFC specialists to harness the power of the technology.

To find out more about the role that NFC should be playing in your marketing and communications strategies, please visit our brand new website and the dedicated platform, and get in touch today.

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