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Art Wittmann
Art Wittmann
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CES 2012's Big Sleeper: Near Field Communications

NFC, the technology running behind Google Wallet and many mobile e-commerce applications, lurks in many of the smartphones on display at CES. But mobile commerce isn't the only reason that NFC deserves your attention.

The picture of what's going to be "hot" at CES this year is starting to shape up.

There's going to be piles of quad-core tablets--it'll be like holding a 1980's supercomputer in your hand--but lighter.

Displays will sport glass that a gorilla can't break, and Corning will let you swing a hammer at it to prove it.

The term big screen display will take on a new meaning with 70-inch and 80-inch models becoming common, and they'll all offer 3-D viewing capability. Of course, even HD gets a little grainy on monitors of that size, so high def move over, it's time for ultra def--that's twice HD's resolution in each direction, maybe all three directions on the 3-D versions.

Yes, all that is going to be very cool, but the most potentially disruptive technology has so far gotten precious little coverage. I'm talking about Near Field Communications or NFC. Didn't get your pulse pumping? What if I told you that NFC is the technology behind Google Wallet and every other mobile e-commerce technology, and that it's likely to be built into a good many of the higher end smartphones shown at CES? If you believe industry watchers, there'll be about a half billion phones sold with the technology between now and 2015.

[ Check out our in-depth report on NFC and its uses. ]

NFC can be used for a lot of things, and payment is just one of them. The close proximity technology can also be used to see specs and other details on retail items. As stores like Best Buy move to compete with Amazon on price, you can bet that this technology will be used to replace the pimply faced kid who actually knows a surprising amount about whatever it is he's selling. It could also be used to assure the lowest prices for price conscious consumers.

There are non-retail uses too. This could finally be the technology that lets us exchange business card info without the card. You could pay tolls or get information from governmental agencies. Wouldn't it be nice if Mount Rushmore told you all about its sculptor Gutzon Borglum, or that it took 12 years to complete?

Of course the first concern for such communications is security, and there's plenty to worry about with NFC--not the least of which is that the standard doesn't presently encrypt transmissions. Nonetheless, all the major phone, credit card, and carrier vendors and a good number of governments are setting to trial the technology in 2012. NFC is one to watch.

According to our Outlook 2012 Survey, IT should expect soaring demand but cautious hiring as companies use technology to try to get closer to customers. Also in the new, all-digital issue of InformationWeek: Inside Windows Server 8. (Free registration required.)

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