7 March 2011
Previous Blog: OpenNFC
I met with the Inside and Zenius folks last week, and am impressed with both teams. Their mutual objective is to make development of NFC applications “easier”. Both have developed a chipset independent framework (common API layer) which creates a layer of abstraction between an NFC application (ex wallet) and the underlying hardware. Both have also developed example applications that leverage this API layer (wallet, ticketing, loyalty, … ). My summary thoughts on the 2 teams are I like them both. Inside has expertise from hardware through software delivery. Zenius’ expertise extends from POS to Handset across multiple hardware architectures.
- NFC API framework
- Chipset independent (proven)
- Vendor independent
- Handset Applications
- POS Applications
- MNO experience
- NFC API Framework
- Marketed as Chipset independent (no proven)
- Handset NFC Applications (5 of them)
- Discourages Multi SE environment
- Discourages Application Development (Use on of its 5 Applications)
What I struggled with was Inside’s insistence that there should only be 5 NFC applications. In other words, its NFC middleware layer was only for its own internal use to ensure that its applications work across all (competitor) NFC chipsets. The implication is that there will only be 5 NFC applications… for eternity. For example, ISIS selected the C-SAM wallet that sits on top of a custom built NFC stack. In the Inside model, ISIS would need to jettison both CSAM and its custom middleware. (Yeah, I had the same reaction).
Zenius has a much more mature model, driven from their legacy working within Verifone and VivoTech. The Zenius guys had to make their applications work across multiple hardware solutions, and hence developed a framework that is now productized. They have also developed 5 standard application, that are “reference implementations” of their APIs, you can use them in a white label fashion, customize them.. or take them apart to see how they leveraged the API layer. This is a better approach hands down.
Inside’s approach seems a little unrealistic, and could be perceived as a “land grab”. What do I like about Inside’s OpenNFC? The middleware and their end-end experience. In the end they are driven by chipset volume.. my guess is that they would be willing to give away OpenNFC if it would drive their chip sales. Problem is that giving it away may only commoditize their core product, hence they would be tempted to ensure that their product “works best” with OpenNFC. This is one reason that middleware vendors (MQ, Tibco, WebMethods, ..etc) developed separate from software companies.
Given that developing native NFC applications is difficult, the experience largely sits within companies like: Inside, NXP, Verifone, VivoTech, Device Fidelity, Tyfone.. . People within these organizations all know each other.. after all it is a very small community. I asked them how many of their colleagues are at Apple. The answer across the board is that they don’t know of anyone. This tells me that Apple is probably more than a few months away from launching an NFC wallet, or that they are dependent on a vendor (?Gemalto) for all development.
Since ISIS has already completed development of its own NFC wallet (not on iPhone), what are Apple’s plans? I’m told that Apple wants a wallet tied to their 200M Apple accounts, this could be mere speculation, but it seems logical. I’m also told that Apple has their own NFC wallet. If Apple does indeed have an NFC application, it is something they have procured (licensed and modified) from Gemalto. This is not a bad thing, particularly if Apple is more focused on hardware architecture, and plans for managing secure elements (SEs). The first wallet will undergo significant testing, through a new hardware and software stack. They must have something they control (not ISIS) and that is tested (Gemalto) to reduce complexity. Apple will likely need additional applications, but they must start somewhere.
All of this just spells further trouble for ISIS, who was hoping to focus more on POS issues now that they have a working wallet application. If RIM and Apple are successful in keeping control of the NFC wallet, ISIS can only hope to be another “card” in the wallet… one that speaks Discover ZIP initially. Quite a different value proposition than what they started with 6 months ago.
For Apple, this allows them to strike a strategic relationship with a card issuer (like Chase) who will likely invest in both marketing and POS infrastructure. I’m sure that Apple’s plan is to also integrate iAd… although it can’t possibly make it for 2011 (my guess).