August 30, 2012

NFC Or No?

Remember the other day when an NFC capable iPhone was all the buzz on the tech blogs?

Yeah, apparently it was all a lie.

Yesterday, Japanese website Macotakara posted several leaked images of a fully assembled “next” iPhone, complete with a tiny square chip next to the iSight Camera. Though they weren’t 100% certain what this part could be, they thought it was a pretty safe bet— everything considered— that this could be the NFC chip.

Now, under the cold sobering light of a new day, AnandTech has told us not to hold our breath when it comes to this year’s iPhone having NFC capabilities.

Those not yet willing to let their NFC dreams die might do well to check in with the infamous Canadian pundit Jim Dalrymple, who offered his own, monosyllabic confirmation of this latest report.


According to the AnandTech piece by Brian Klug and Anand Lal Shimpi, the metal back of the rumored next iPhone could be responsible for keeping Apple’s mobile payment domination at bay…for now.

“Given the primarily metal backside of the new iPhone, it’s highly unlikely that NFC is in the cards for this generation. In fact, given the very little space at top and bottom dedicated to those glass RF windows, you can almost entirely rule it out.”

In order for NFC to function at its best, it needs the largest antenna possible. According to AnandTech, these antennas are often coiled together and wound as many times as possible on a flat plane. For instance, the NFC antenna for Samsung’s Galaxy Nexus fits on top of the battery, making it plenty large to be useful.

So, if Apple were to add NFC capabilities, they’d likely need to find a way to implement a large, coiled antenna to power the NFC. With room inside the iPhone already a precious commodity, there’s really only one place such an antenna could go, says AnandTech, and that’s behind the battery.

“It shouldn’t need saying,” writes the AnandTech team, “but having a huge ground plane (the unibody metal back case) in the way of your NFC antenna will seriously degrade performance, thus only the top or bottom windows are logical places to put it.”

The AnandTech team also points out that the cable running from the “mystery chip” seen in yesterday’s photos could be used to connect the ambient light sensor, earpiece and proximity sensors together, rather than power the new chip.

Finishing up the piece, Klug and Shimpi question why Passbook is so often quoted as a reason for Apple to implement NFC in their next iPhone. (This writer is plenty guilty of it)

“The inclusion of Passbook in iOS 6 is the most often-cited piece of evidence for Apple including NFC, which seems a bit paradoxical since Apple hasn’t disclosed at all whether it would favor NFC or a Bluetooth LE (low-energy) or even QR code based payment token through that gateway.”

Other hopeful holdouts for an NFC iPhone also quote a March 2011 New York Times piece which seemingly confirmed such a phone sometime in the future.

“According to two people with knowledge of the inner workings of a coming iteration of the Apple iPhone — although not necessarily the next one — a chip made by Qualcomm for the phone’s processor will also include near-field communication technology, known as N.F.C,” reads the Times blog piece.

So, if not this year, then next?

Image Credit: Alexander Kirch / Shutterstock

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