Tuesday, March 13, 2012

My picks from NFC2012

Together with Joseph Langer and Tuomo Tuikka I was involved in the organization of another issue of the NFC workshop series.
Jukka Riekki open the workshop by giving a keynote on NFC as an interaction method in interactive spaces. He showed various examples where the user interface is spread in the environment [1]. The challenge he outlined here is that the user first has to find the interface!
Accordingly, Jukka proposed a graphical language which would make the user aware of opportunities of interaction. He reported about studies with kindergarten children who learned reading the name tags by touching them with an NFC phone and listening to the audio voice [2]. His learning from that project was that the early simple NFC phones have the better usability: the reading zone of the antenna is more obvious and the phones are better to grasp.

Stefan Gruenberger from Hagenberg presented on the challenges of integrating NFC into existing electronic ticketing standards, such as VDV. Reading his paper [3] I got the impression that ticketing is a literal killer application by rather killing the application...

Michael Roland shared illuminating insights about the security challenges of emulating smartcards on smart phones. He reviewed [4] the various vendors' API's, such as JSR 177, Nokia's JSR extensions, Blackberry and Android. He concluded that the access to the smart card application via the various mobile phone operating systems should be better protected by additional user interaction, e.g. granting apps access to the payment function by entering a dedicated PIN. The implementation of this feature has to be moved beyond the operating system level down to the hardware level. Otherwise, relay attacks could make use of the GSM network to remotely access other user's secure elements to process payment without their notice.

Esko Stroemer presented a new application for NFC, using the NFC standard for wirelessly charging devices. While he had to admit that powerage at the NFC frequency will be orders magnitude lower than standard wireless chargers (0.1 W in contrast to 5W), he presented convincing usage cases. erhaltladung, small devices, and finally the combination of NFC services and charging, as paid charging. Esko presented some prototype proving the concept. He outlined the design of RF systems that perform both at low coupling (standard NFC case) and high coupling (charging) as challenges. Later, at the airport I already saw a wireless charging station still requiring an external ring-antenna plug...

During the side discussions I learned that the NFC killer app payment is still hardest one due to the competing interest of the involved parties: the credit card issuers, such as mastercard/visa own the payment infrastructure in the stores. Unlike in the traditional cards business the user tokens are not owned by the issuers but by the handset manufacturers. Thus, this parties have to agree on the conditions. The implementations have to be at least as secure as the trusted card platform (which is hard to achieve in current implementations granting the mobile OS's direct access to the payment schemes as roland has pointed out). This process of consolidation might be still going for a while and then hopefully pave the ground for the flourishing user experience enhancing apps as Rukka has pointed.

The future of NFC is hard to predict, the future of the NFC workshop is rather clear: NFC2013 will be at ETH Zurich!
It will be exciting to see how NFC will develop and whether adoption will finally take off...CU in Zurich!!!

[1] Hosio S., Jurmu M., Kukka H., Riekki J. & Ojala T. (2010) Supporting distributed private and public user interfaces in urban environments Proc. 11th Workshop on Mobile Computing Systems and Applications (HotMobile 2010), Annapolis, MD, USA, 25-30.
[2] Riekki J, Cortés M, Hytönen M, Sánchez I & Korkeamäki R-L (2012) Touching Nametags with NFC Phones: a Playful Approach to Learning to Read. LNCS Transactions on Edutainment. Special Issue on Interactive Digital Storytelling,

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