If you view the specifications of the Surface tablets at Microsoft’s home page, you will notice that Bluetooth 4.0, WiFi, and ClearType are three technologies Microsoft placed within its new Surface tablet. Near Field Communication (NFC) and Global Positioning Systems (GPS) are two current technologies that Microsoft left out of its newest Surface RT and Surface Pro tablets. Many Windows 7 customers who anticipate the arrival of Windows RT and Windows 8 want to know the reason behind the absence of these two technologies within its ten-inch mobile tablets. In order to understand why Microsoft did not use them, it is necessary to understand what they are as well as their contributions to mobile devices.
NFC: What It Is and Why It’s Missing
Near Field Communication, or NFC, is a technology that allows two devices that are in the same vicinity (one device is “near” the other’s “field”) to beam data, photos, texts, emails, and other documents to both devices. It also allows you to pay for purchases by way of some sort of electronic, virtual wallet. Paypass (Mastercard) and Google Wallet are two NFC programs that allow customers the option of paying for their products electronically, without a need for a credit or debit card. With virtual cards, consumers can enter their credit card information into the program, save it, and then (according to Google Wallet and Paypass) place his or her mobile phone over the scanner and a transaction occurs.
In the case of the Microsoft Surface RT tablet, NFC was not placed into its mobile tablet. Why does the Microsoft Surface tablet not include NFC? One reason, according to a Microsoft representative, concerns the magnesium case that shelters the Surface tablet required the Surface Team to choose between the tablet case or NFC. The Touch Cover is spill-resistant and prevents the tablet from being hurt or damaged in any way. The Type Cover is light and thin and uses a traditional keyboard to provide a “mini-PC” or mini laptop feel. While both Type and Touch Covers are lightweight (as thin as a credit card), they are both extremely durable. Adding NFC technology to Microsoft’s Surface tablet would have increased the size of the device and tablet, which would make the product heavier and harder to hold in your hands. At 10.6 inches in size, keeping the device thin in terms of its thickness is vital. The NFC antenna would have required a larger case, one that would stretch the size of tablet.
How Has the Tech Industry Adopted NFC?
Near Field Communication (NFC) is growing in popularity in the tech industry, as Mastercard recently released its Paypass developer tool kit for Android and Blackberry manufacturers for use on their smartphones. There are over 70 smartphones that now use Mastercard’s NFC service (PayPass). The company Moo decided last month to include NFC chips in its business cards. The goal of NFC chips in business cards is to allow businessmen to pass along their contact information (name, email, address, etc.) by placing a mobile source close to another mobile source. With a business card chip in plain sight of a smartphone, the information should arrive on the smartphone immediately. Additionally, there are a number of carriers who have entered the NFC arena and plan to integrate the technology into their services. According to Brian Proffitt of ReadWriteWeb, T-Mobile, Verizon Wireless, and AT&T have entered an agreement to create Isis, a payment system that processes payments for purchases through smartphone software alone.
Microsoft, in choosing to leave out NFC in its Surface tablets, is not alone; Apple did the same thing with its new iPhone 5. When asked about why NFC was not included as a feature of iOS6, Apple Senior VP Phil Schiller responded by saying that “It’s not clear that NFC is the solution to any current problem” (Brian Proffitt, “Why No NFC in the iPhone 5 Should Work Out for Apple.” ReadWriteWeb. September 14, 2012). Schiller’s response (so says Brian Proffitt) “was communicating a basic fact about NFC-based payments: they aren’t universally accepted yet.” NFC is gaining ground, but still has much more ground to cover than ever before. Even if NFC gained steam, Proffitt says, to the point that it became a universal payment system, NFC may not catch ground right away because it only meets a convenience for customers (not for merchants).
Microsoft may release a tablet with NFC technology at some point in the next few years; it will be 3-5 years, however, before NFC gains the ground it needs to be placed in all new mobile devices. Google’s President of Wallets and Payments, Osama Bedier, says that he and Google realize how much time NFC needs before it gains mass approval. As for Google, it can count itself as one of the frontrunners in NFC. Microsoft, however, is no worse than Apple with regard to NFC. Although the rationale behind its decision to keep NFC out (the vapor magnesium case) differs from Apple (for the Cupertino, California company, NFC is not massively popular), Microsoft has good reason to adopt the “wait-and-see” approach.
Why Not GPS? Explaining the Absence of Global Positioning Systems Tracking
With regard to GPS (Global Positioning Systems) tracking, the Microsoft Surface tablets do not incorporate GPS because to do so requires the use of a cellular network such as “3G” or “4G.” The Microsoft Surface tablets rely on WiFi only. To invent the Surface RT and Surface Pro tablets without a cellular network is to take the path of the greats: Apple did not use GPS tracking in its devices until it invented the iPhone 3GS in 2009 (the first iPhone arrived on the market in 2007). Google’s Nexus 7 tablets (both its 8GB and 16GB; to add to these, a coming 32GB) all rely on WiFi networks.