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May 12, 2011

Google casts doubt on NFC m-payments

Google casts a long shadow over the future of m-payments using near-field communication (NFC) technology as its developers effectively write off card emulation as the way forward. During the Google IO developers conference held in California, Googles Jeff Hamilton and Nick Pelly, engineers working on the Android NFC stack, explained why there is no application programme interface (API) support for card emulation on Googles Gingerbread mobile handset.

By Verdict Staff

Google casts a long shadow over the future of m-payments using near-field communication (NFC) technology as its developers effectively write off card emulation as the way forward.

During the Google I/O developer’s conference held in California, Google’s Jeff Hamilton and Nick Pelly, engineers working on the Android NFC stack, explained why there is no application programme interface (API) support for card emulation on Google’s Gingerbread mobile handset.

“If we were to build such APIs [for the Gingerbread] the applications are going to have a really inconsistent experience as they are deployed to different Android devices,” said Pelly.

“Some will support NFC-A, some will support NFC-B. We don’t think this is really going to be a really great story for third-party developers right now.

“Secondly, when you are doing card emulation, you are emulating a passive target that is going to have one kilobyte, two kilobytes of memory. You are going to then have to decide which application has the right to manage this limited resource.”

Pelly claims Google did not integrate card emulation APIs into Gingerbread as it wants to ensure a compelling user experience.

In a further barrier to card emulation, the hardware in a mobile device is currently set up to facilitate the process through the secure element and, according to Hamilton, Google does not currently have the APIs to communicate with the secure element – something that is not expected to change in the near future.

“The secure element is a limited resource, it cannot hold a large amount of data in there,” said Hamilton.

“And if we open it up to any third-party application, there is going to be a huge resource contention over the secure element.

Additionally to talk to the secure elements, even from the applications on the phone, you need to authenticate yourself properly. If you were to improperly authenticate yourself a certain number of times, there are secure elements out there that will physically destroy themselves and can never be recovered.”

P2P payments seems to be a different story, however, as this the road Pelly believes the industry should take when it comes to NFC m-payments.

“We really think peer-to-peer is the way to go for future NFC users,” he said.

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