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More on NFC rings and what they can be used for

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April 22, 2014

If you're not sure what a so-called 'NFC Ring' is supposed to do, you're probably not alone.

An NFC (Near Field Communication) Ring is actually a small piece of jewellery with two NFC tags embedded in it that pass information to nearby phones, tablets and other electronic devices using low power radio waves.

However, given the fact that NFC has been a bit of a flop so far, this may seem a little pointless, but we will tell you what it can do just the same.

But as a ring, it may start to make a bit of sense. For starters, it turns the model around. Rather than expecting you to use your phone to pay-by-tap, it uses the ring to control the phone.

But most importantly, it can replace the lock code or swipe pattern by just holding the phone while wearing the ring. Tap the ring against the phone and you're in-- the code to unlock the device is sent wirelessly from the ring.

The NFC Ring is the brainchild of John McLear, a British citizen. Initially described by some as a 3D device, the first prototypes turned out to be made of plastic and didn't work too well.

In theory, an NFC ring can replace a contact-less payment card, but these things are never quite that straightforward. McLear wants to support payments, but that will need expertise in global payment-card standard Europay-MasterCard-Visa (EMV).

In Britain, it canít be used as an 'Oyster Card' as thatís proprietary MiFare technology, although the London Underground is also moving to EMV which is why Tube-dwelling Londoners are getting constant warnings to keep their payment cards and Oyster cards separate.

Other similar applications include NFC door locks. There are a few around, principally targeted at the hotel market, but Yale has shown off a domestic version. With two chips in the ring, one can be used for public functions, such as handing over a Bitcoin wallet address, while the other can be private.

The two chips are denoted by white and black areas on the ring. McLear is applying the Etherpad open-source ethos to NFC Ring, opening up the technology for third-party developers.

So for the moment, itís just a pair of NXP NTAG 203 chips, especially made for the NFC Ring and tuned to the titanium they are using for the band. A special polymer coating protects the silicon.

Remember, this has to survive a much harsher environment than is usual for electronics. You donít shower with a phone or use it to do the washing up. Future models will cater for gold, platinum and then silver rings.

McLear adds that he's discovered that phone hardware varies a lot from one device to the other, and he's the first person weíve met who doesnít like the metal back on the HTC One M8-- ďThe only place where the NFC works is by the camera lensĒ.

And then of course, the software is also a big issue. Clearly there is no iPhone option. Itís rumored for the iPhone 6 but then it was for every past generation as well...

McLear's NFC Ring supports Android and Windows Phone. Overall, Android works better because you can use it to unlock the phone, whereas Windows' proximity API doesnít allow access when the phone is locked.

The best utilization for an NFC Ring, as a Windows Phone user, is to link to a web page. For an Android user itís an elegant solution and has certainly captured the imagination of some people.

The successfully completed Kickstarter project sold 10,000 rings and they have sold 5,000 more since, partly thanks to backing from Audrey Capital.

There are major investments in the production and quality control of NFC Rings, with the initial manufacturing in China. McLear is keen to find British companies with the technology, particularly for the polymer coating.

The current ring is just passive but future plans include active devices with inductive charging. This is much more ambitious as a ring needs to last much longer than the technology we are used to.

Jewellery is a very different market to technology. Itís attractive because the margins are so much higher but brings other issues- ďAbout 10 percent of people get their size wrong when they orderĒ said McLear, but with experience, and as with anything, heís getting on top of the game.

In other mobile news

Nokia said earlier today that it expects to close the sale of its devices and services business to Microsoft on Friday, April 25. Nokia added that the deal is now subject only to certain customary closing conditions.

Initially, the sale was expected to close by the end of March, but Microsoft said last month that the deadline would be delayed as the deal was still being reviewed by certain antitrust authorities in Asia.

Announced last September, the transaction will also give Microsoft custody of certain Nokia patents as well.

Once the deal is completed, Microsoft plans to rename Nokia's mobile business from Nokia Oyj to Microsoft Mobile, according to a letter sent to suppliers.

The new subsidiary will also function as Microsoft's mobile devices and services division, the letter added.

In other mobile news

T-Mobile USA is once again looking to seize headlines in the wireless carrier segment by going forward with a campaign to end data, text and voice overage fees.

T-Mobile said that as of May 1st it will no longer charge users an additional fee when the data limit on a device has been reached.

Similarly, the company has eliminated overage charges for users who are still on voice and text plans that carry fixed limits on messages or minutes.

In announcing the new plan, T-Mob CEO John Legere also challenged the company's rivals to follow suit and eliminate data overage penalties for all their wireless customers.

Legere has even started an online petition for customers of other carriers to request the end of overage charges. "The old carriers' entry-level plans lure you in with a low monthly cost for a fixed amount of domestic minutes, texts or data. Once you go over those limits Ė even by a little Ė you're hit with bill shock," Legere wrote.

"On behalf of all U.S. wireless consumers, we're putting an end to the fear of getting one too many pics or clicking on one too many links Ė and bam. You're hit with overages," he added.

Legere then took to Twitter to further his campaign and sent a few shots across the bow of his company's rivals.

The move is the third and final installment of a series of customer initiatives T-Mobile US is rolling out in the latest phase of its Uncarrier campaign.

Last week, the company on successive days rolled out a plan to offer a $40 entry-level monthly service plan and a post-paid mobile data plan that included discounts of up to $130 on the company's tablet offerings.

The Uncarrier campaign has seen T-Mobile USA roll out a series of customer-friendly initiatives in the past year. While the wireless carrier has taken a short-term cash hit, T-Mobile is also reporting a subscriber increase which the company hopes will bring a long-term financial benefit.

In other mobile news

The rumors have been flying for a while already, and Amazon's soon-to-be-expected smartphone will have to come with all the latest bells and whistles, along with maybe a feature or two that rivals don't offer.

However, as with most Amazon products, its selling price will ultimately determine if Jeff Bezos' latest idea will be successful or not.

If Amazon wants to make a real difference in the smartphone market, it should double-down on what it's done so well in the past-- offering a product that undercuts competitors.

The only way to really get attention in a world dominated by Apple's iPhone and Samsung's Galaxy S devices is to go full steam ahead with a budget-minded device aimed at the average consumer.

That's because most people won't see an Amazon-branded smartphone as a high-end competitor, said Carolina Milanesi, a wireless industry market analyst.

Working closely with wireless carriers that often subsidize the price of smartphones when subscribers sign up for a two-year contract is just one of the obstacles for smartphone makers. And we all know that AT&T and Verizon are really good at that.

Let's face it-- the smartphone business is an extremely competitive market that even successful technology giants such as Amazon struggle with.

To be fair, Samsung already controls almost 32.4 percent of the smartphone market, while Apple owns another 15 or so percent, according to Gartner. And a dozen other companies are also fighting for a share, but very few of them are actually making a profit on the devices.

BlackBerry might soon go bankrupt, and Nokia couldn't survive without the help from Microsoft, and even device makers like HTC have failed.

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Nevertheless, there's certainly some interest in a high-quality, low-price phone and Jeff Bezos knows that. Motorola's Moto G won some points for the amount of hardware and capabilities packed into a device that cost $179 unlocked.

So the question is, can Amazon do better, and if so, at what price? The company has shown its willingness to lose money on hardware to get people to use its services and buy more items through the devices. Amazon thinks that using devices to highlight its video streaming service, app store, or shopping options means more returning customers. It may be right, but time will tell for sure.

Amazon probably won't see the same kind of consumer loyalty for a smartphone as it did with the Kindle Fire tablets, or even the recently-released Fire TV.

Although Amazon doesn't disclose sales numbers per item category, the Kindle Fire got a lot of mileage with its low $200 price tag, and Amazon said last week that it already sold out of Fire TV devices.

But as we all know, there's a lot more competition for smartphones, and although tablets are also a mobile device, people don't treat them like smartphones, which need wireless carriers to power data consumption. Once the carriers are involved, there's more complexity and decisions for consumers to make.

"At first, tablets were a new category and most people were buying Wi-Fi-only versions, so there was no wireless carrier in the mix," Greengart said. "It made it so much easier for them. There was no discussion of how does this fit into the family plan I'm already on?"

Also, most consumers still don't have a clear idea of just how much a smartphone is worth in the first place, and often dramatically underestimate their cost.

Thanks to carrier subsidies given in exchange for long-term service contracts, even decent phones like the Galaxy S4, is offered for free at AT&T when you sign a 2-year contract.

So while the Kindle Fire tablet may have lured in consumers when the original device came out at a low price, that method may not be as effective when it comes to smartphones, which are almost always sold below their inherent cost.

For Amazon to really impress in the smartphone market, it simply can't rely on over-the-top smartphone features. It has to convince its customers they're getting a real bargain worthy of the company's best discount deals. The new device is expected to come out sometime in the fall we're told.

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Source: John McLear.

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