Near-Field Communications (NFC) was one of the more controversial omissions from Apple's latest iPhone, but one UK bank has come up with a way to circumvent the issue.
Working with Visa Europe, RBS and NatWest (both part of RBS Group) have launched an NFC-enabled protective cover for Apple iPhone 4 and 4S models, to enable customers to make mobile contactless payments.
To use the service, known as TouchPay, customers just have to attach the cover to their Apple iPhone 4 or iPhone 4s and follow the on-screen instructions to download the TouchPay app from the Apple App Store.
Once the activation process is complete, users can use their smartphone for transactions of £20 or less at mobile contactless-enabled retail outlets without entering their PIN, and can also track their spending through the TouchPay application.
The service will initially be available on a trial basis for the first 1,000 customers to register, and will later be rolled out to all RBS and NatWest customers who have Apple iPhones.
“A key industry challenge in bringing mobile contactless payments to consumers is finding ways to enable existing smartphones that do not offer NFC technology,” said Sandra Alzetta, senior vice president and head of mobile at Visa Europe.
“Services like TouchPay show how NFC-enabled accessories for smartphones can deliver the future of payments today and help hasten mainstream adoption.”
Analysts have been predicting for some time that NFC mobile payment technology will become ubiquitous. Earlier this year, Juniper Research predicted that the NFC retail payments market will exceed $180 billion (£112bn) globally by 2017 – more than a seven-fold increase over 2012.
However, the rate of adoption remains slow, and NFC usage is expected to remain niche in 2012 and even 2013. Most retailers still do not have NFC scanners, and the few that do often have them switched off.
Speaking at the Apps World summit in London today, Michael Hobbs, project lead for the Mobile Applications Group at Accenture Mobility, said that NFC mobile payments present a lucrative opportunity for banks, operators and payments processors, but consumer demand is still low.
“It's going to take some deep pockets from those prepared to invest in trials and prove to consumers that the technology is safe to use,” he said.
Charles McCathie Nevile, consultant at Russian internet company Yandex, added that consumers currently lack the incentive to start using NFC mobile payments rather than cash.
“In Kenya and Somalia people have been making mobile payments every day for years, but there is possibly less motivation in Western countries to make it work,” he said.
“Here everyone has a credit card, and that's a more efficient and more entrenched form of payment. Until the new alternative is better that what is available now, you haven't got anything to sell.”