After Apple Pay, the NFC Forum's director digs into app developer community

Paula Hunter, NFC Forum executive director

Paula Hunter

with Paula Hunter, NFC Forum executive director

When Apple launched Apple Pay along with its latest smartphones last month, it was one of the most high-profile moments Near-Field Communications (NFC) has had for some time. The NFC Forum, however, wants to do a lot more to keep the momentum going.

The NFC Forum recently launched its "Tap Into NFC" Developer Program, which includes a website and a Twitter contest running Oct. 16-23. Using #Tapin2NFC, developers are invited to share what they like most about the program and site, including favorite products from the product showcase. A winning tweet will be selected at random and the winner will receive an NFC-enabled wearable device.

FierceDeveloper got more details on the program and the future of NFC in this conversation with Paula Hunter, the NFC Forum's executive director. This interview has been edited and condensed.

FierceDeveloper: How would you describe the key benefits of the forum's new program for developers? 

Hunter: First and foremost, what we want to do is create a community. Having worked with software developers in the past, recognizing that they are very creative, very collaborative individuals, we want a community where they can engage with each other but also with the largest brands and players in this marketplace. It's about bringing not only innovation in technology and the application of NFC, but helping with their approach in bringing new businesses to the market. 

FierceDeveloper: What kind of resources will be available? 

Hunter: We'll be offering the latest and greatest news from all companies with NFC developer kits, but also links to technologists with specialized expertise in some of the  underlying technology. The other thing we're going to offer is a dedicated website for them with developer kits and specs and other information, but also showcasing their products and giving them a megaphone to talk to their community at large and other potential business partners. It's not really a pure developer program like the (Google) Android developer program. They have resources we can't compete with, nor would we want to. 

FierceDeveloper: How would you evaluate the level of awareness around NFC within the app developer community today, and how is it evolving? 

Hunter: The awareness is growing, but the education areas we're focusing on is really on the opportunity and how they can take advantage of some of the new APIs and tools that the OS vendors are supplying to enhance their apps, so they can start their businesses from the ground up. NFC is still relatively young but the interest is definitely increasing. It's been helped considerably by Google and their programs for NFC, and we're seeing Microsoft contributing with their technology as well.

FierceDeveloper: What has been the impact of Apple's announcement around Apple Pay and its use of NFC technology?

Hunter: If the end result is that more readers come online that can accept NFC payments, that's great for everyone. While the developers may not be able to work intimately yet with Apple Pay, it's expected that will come over time. Apple obviously wants to deploy to the broadest possible audience. We believe some of the positive benefits of Apple entering the marketplace is they're a very strong retailer-oriented company, so training their staff on the use of wireless payments could mean that more and more retailers will be accepting these types of payments.

FierceDeveloper: App developers tend to struggle in areas such as discovery, engagement and monetization. How do you see NFC and the program you're offering assisting them in any of those areas? 

Hunter: I think there are two ways. First, we have a number of vertical market initiatives, we call them SIGs (special interest groups) in NFC parlance. We're working with major players in transport, retail and other markets, which means we can engage (with developers) where appropriate in very targeted opportunities if it's a fit. We're also launching new initiatives for consumers, educating them about the NFC technology experience. We're not necessarily drilling down into bits and bytes of what NFC is, but we need to make it easier to understand what's the benefit of taking that action (of using NFC). We want to articulate and amplify those benefits. There's already a critical mass around the globe with all the major handset providers. This is a good time for us to leverage some of the big brands we have in our membership.

FierceDeveloper: There is a lot of talk about NFC enterprise apps today, but to what extent do you see growth in the consumer app and mobile gaming space with NFC? 

Hunter: I think there's opportunity in both, but I think you'll see them evolve at a different pace. There's a lot of opportunity with the large deployments in sectors such as air transport, access control, retail, hospitality and loyalty payments, which all result in a benefit for the end consumer, but it can require complex system integration. They can take a lot longer to reach the market. If you look at the new apps focused on the B2C sector, on the other hand, all it takes is a couple of viral apps and someone's into significant volume with the consumer. 

FierceDeveloper: You're launching this program at a time when awareness of wearable technology is at an all-time high. How do you see NFC playing out in smart watches, smart eyewear and other form factors? 

Hunter: We're seeing wearables all over the place, even wearables for your dog (laughs). As we started reaching out to some people in our network and the product showcases and demonstrating their apps and their products, we were pleasantly surprised by the number of wearables that are coming in. You'll see more activity there coming out of our consumer tech SIG. 

FierceDeveloper: Any other tips on how app developers could gain an early lead in NFC? 

Hunter: I'd encourage them to work with other OS vendors. Certainly those companies have developer kits and we'll be helping developers get to them through our site. We'll be working hard to keep on top of that and make it easy for developers to find that information but we also, getting back to that community concept, developers need a place where they can raise their hand, say, 'I need help,' and learn how to get information and figure out where they can also share information with a broader community.