When Apple decided not to include Near Field Communication (NFC) in its feature set for the iPhone 5, it left industry insiders and consumers wondering whether Apple would be left behind and miss the boat on what is expected to be 1.2 billion NFC chips shipped annually by 2015. Rather than focus its NFC technology on Android and other NFC-supported devices, Miami-based Flomio has set out to bring NFC to iOS and enable the technology for Apple’s user base with its new KickStarter campaign.
The company is looking to launch its FloJack, a small device for iPhone, iPads, and the latest iPod touch models that lets Apple users get in on the NFC action. For a pledge of $39, backers can receive both a FloJack and programable NFC tags, and every pledge over $99 gives backers access to the company’s software development kit (SDK). Since launching the project on Thursday, the company is already at over $12,000 of its $80,000 funding goal, with 28 days to go.
NFC technology enables a mobile phone, device or NFC-enabled tag to interact and connect with its environment and other devices within a few centimeters. Through the use of an NFC tag, or other NFC enabled device, the technology can be used for things like checking out at a store counter by tapping it against an NFC-enabled POS device, exchanging contact information by tapping a phone, or getting discounts for products and services to customize a shopping experience.
“The FloJack’s been in production since August of last year. When all the rumors came out that the iPhone 5 was going to come out with NFC, we wavered and wondered if we should still do it. When it it shipped without NFC, we decided that we have to do it now, and our advisor told us we’d be leaving money on the table,” co-founder Tim Ronan said in an interview. “There have been comments ‘this product already has a limited life-span,’ we know that, it’s not like we don’t foresee a future iPhone not having NFC, but we need to prime the pump right now, there’s a lot of iOS developers that have been wanting to play with NFC and the spike in sales over the past 24 hours is a testament to that.”
The FloJack is a dongle not unlike the Square mobile reader that plugs into an iOS device’s headphone jack, which users then pair with Flomio’s app. Given that Flomio’s FloJack is just one piece of an entire NFC ecosystem (an NFC-enabled device has to interact with another NFC-enabled device or tag in order for a transaction to take place), the company is hoping to raise $80,000 to not only put the FloJack into production, but also to finish creating their NFC Actions App for iOS, and launch its NFC Developer Program. The NFC Actions app will let anyone program an NFC tag, including both Samsung’s TecTile and their own Flomio Zapps, which can be used to launch a wide array of interactive experiences.
The company’s Kickstarter page features a video showcasing how they envision the FloJack being used, from programming tags to help users do everything from launch apps to set their alarm, to giving developers a set of tools that would make it easier to start adding NFC to their iOS apps.
One of the biggest opportunities for the technology remains in the the mobile payments space, since tools like Google Wallet and the newly-launched Isis system let users pay for items by tapping their NFC-enabled device on an NFC terminal. Google launched its Google Wallet app in September 2011, which lets users store their credit cards and pay in-store using NFC-enabled Android smartphones, including the Samsung Galaxy S III, and Apple included its Passbook feature in iOS 6, letting users store their coupons and tickets, but NFC was noticeably absent.
In the long run, Flomio sees its role as being more of a platform to help consumers, merchants, brands, and developers jump into an NFC-enabled future. “We looked at it as an opportunity to do all the things everybody in NFC has to do right now, we have to get the developers excited, the merchants and brands excited to implement. Whether it’s a marketing or POS opportunity or an experience people haven’t even envisioned yet, then you have to educate the public,” Ronan added.
Flomio is confident that even if Apple does eventually decide to include the technology in the next iterations of its product lines, there will still be users who don’t upgrade to the latest hardware. Flomio will also be launching a cloud-based version of its NFC Actions app, which would lead to cheaper and smaller tags, or Zapps as the company brands them, and it plans to open an online store post-Kickstarter campaign. The company is waiting to see whether the iOS market craves NFC as badly as it believes it does, and the FloJack should be a good way to measure demand.