NFC: the OnePlus 2 “settled” without it

Carl Pei’s USA Today interview featured his discussion of the goal of OnePlus and how the company came to be a part of the current smartphone scene. In the midst of the discussion, the OnePlus co-founder gave his view of NFC and why the company removed it from the OnePlus 2.

I think the entire issue of NFC is overblown. Very few people are using NFC, so we cut it. It’s as simple as that. I know that Android Pay is coming but all that is in the future. It (NFC) is going to gain widespread adoption in stores 12-18 months from now. By that time people will have moved on to the next device.

To Pei’s credit, it seems that, on the whole, fewer people are using NFC than not using NFC. At the same time, however, did OnePlus not say that it’s OnePlus 2 was a “2016 flagship killer”? The company’s marketing slogan at Twitter made a public statement that the OnePlus 2 is future-proof, that even the very best of Apple and Samsung in 2016 can’t beat it. If Carl Pei’s claim about removing NFC is that people will use it in the future (but aren’t using it now), why not include NFC in “the 2016 flagship killer”? To say that “people aren’t using it now but will next year,” only to have a marketing slogan with the year “2016” in it, seems contradictory.

One claim that many have made about NFC is that it would not have cost much money to include the feature; why remove it simply because “people don’t use it”? The claim may seem to be the case that OnePlus pays attention to what its customers use, but it’s not necessarily the case that every OnePlus customer doesn’t use the feature; what Pei means by this statement, I presume, is that most of the OnePlus customer base doesn’t use NFC. That doesn’t mean that everyone doesn’t use it. So, what about appeasing the customers who do use NFC?

Next, NFC has quite a few uses for everyday life that make the feature beneficial for consumers. First, NFC can be used to give a friend access to your Wi-Fi network with one tap of an NFC tag with the intended smartphone, for example. You can also use NFC to enable and disable your smartphone’s Wi-Fi access, unlock and open your door, disable Bluetooth, decrease screen brightness, increase volume in your car, launch a music or fitness app, send your family member or friend a text message, enable or disable sleep alarms, disable LED notifications, and pair your smartphone with a Bluetooth keyboard, with the tap of an NFC tag. And you can do these things whether you’re in your home, the office, or in your car. NFC’s uses don’t stop at the door of mobile payments only.

And this doesn’t even take into account the future of NFC, in which you can essentially tap your phone against an NFC tag to do a number of things that you would normally do by way of voice command or manual controls. There are other uses that will surface in time, as more and more consumers adopt the technology and start to use it.

NFC, like a number of other current technologies adopted by a few, is the wave of the future. With the Internet of Things (IoT) agenda on the horizon, where companies want everything in the home, including your doorknob, tied to the Internet, NFC becomes an early IoT pioneer of sorts: it allows you to have a seamless integration of technology, even while coming in your front door after getting out of the Internet-connected vehicle (a.k.a., Android Auto). But NFC is an easier adoption tool because it can currently do many things that the Internet of Things will do – and for a more impressive, budget-friendly device.

Why not include NFC? Carl Pei’s interview gives us the answer of practicality: people aren’t using it, so why keep it? But that doesn’t make sense in light of technology’s futuristic nature: the entire goal of looking forward is to bring technologies to the mainstream consumer that they must discover and learn over time. Look at how far smartphone photography has evolved in just the last 8 years; had manufacturers never decided to provide a professional camera alternative in mobile devices, we wouldn’t have the quality smartphone photos we do today. In this light, then, OnePlus “settled” when it deprived users of NFC in the OnePlus 2.

“Build it, they will come” is the summation of the goal of technological progress. No tech company can wait until people demand it, then build it. That seems counterintuitive to the process. Instead, the goal of tech is to build technologies that may not have use yet but will in the future. And OnePlus dropped the ball in this regard. For a company whose smartphone slogan includes the year “2016” and the phrase “flagship killer,” removing NFC from its lineup (that was available in the OnePlus One) is nothing short of strange, indeed.

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