Apple's mobile development chief Craig Federighi poked fun at Android when he announced AirDrop data sharing technology for iOS on Monday.

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What Apple’s new AirDrop data sharing says about NFC

Matt Hamblen, Computerworld (US)
12 June, 2013
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Apple’s mobile development chief Craig Federighi poked fun at Android when he announced AirDrop data sharing technology for iOS on Monday.

“AirDrop is the easiest way to share [data] with people around you,” Federighi said at the opening of the Worldwide Developers Conference. “There’s no need to wander around the room bumping your phone.”

His remark got hearty laughs from Apple developers in the room, who were undoubtedly familiar with Android Beam, a combination of near field communication (NFC) and Bluetooth data sharing technology that has been available for more than a year and is popularised in some Samsung Galaxy S4 TV commercials.

The NFC technology in various new Android phones allows users to swap photos, songs and documents by touching, or nearly touching, two compatible Android phones together. Android Beam initiates the sharing with NFC, which kicks off a faster Bluetooth connection.

With AirDrop, there’s no NFC involved, according to Apple’s website, just Bluetooth and Wi-Fi. “Just tap Share, then select the person you want to share with,” Apple‘s website says. “AirDrop does the rest using Wi-Fi and Bluetooth. No setup required. And transfers are encrypted, so what you share is highly secure.”

Based on how Wi-Fi works today, even in emerging fast 802.11ac, also called 5G Wi-Fi, AirDrop could allow users to be as far apart as different rooms in a house or apartment, and up to 100 metres in some situations.

While that may sound like an advantage over NFC, which Apple has notably left out of its iPhones thus far, at least one analyst said Apple is still likely to adopt NFC at some point, if not in the next iPhone expected to launch in the spring.


“AirDrop is an elegant way to share files among iOS users, but it still leaves me unable to easily transfer with other OS users,” explains Carolina Milanesi, an analyst at Gartner. “So I think Apple cannot avoid NFC and, to be honest, I do not think that’s [Apple's] plan either.”

Milanesi considers Federighi’s joke about not needing to bump phones for AirDrop to work as a subtle indicator that NFC won’t surface in the next iPhone. But down the road, she predicts, NFC will come to the iPhone.

Craig Federighi

“AirDrop gives current iOS users a way to share, especially if they will not update to the new hardware when it gets NFC,” she says. “So in a way, AirDrop helps keep older hardware relevant once NFC is integrated in the devices.”

Many analysts have said Apple was wise to avoid NFC in the 600 million iOS devices in use, given the slow adoption of mobile wallet services that rely on NFC, such as Google Wallet and Isis.

NFC is inherently more secure than data transfers over Bluetooth and Wi-Fi, even if encrypted, because of the short distance for making a connection, which is very hard to intercept, several analysts and banks adopting NFC have said. The NFC specification requires two NFC devices to be less than 10 centimetres apart to transmit data.

“Even though AirDrop is encrypted, it uses Wi-Fi, and the first question I’d ask is about secure connections,” says Jack Gold, an analyst at J Gold Associates. “With NFC, people a block away can’t decipher my data.”

Some analysts say smartphones running NFC, which is widely used in Asian countries for transportation and retail purchases, will increase in the US in late 2015, when US merchants are expected to upgrade to point-of-sale terminals to accept smart chip card transactions that are compatible with smartphone NFC.

Aside from not having to bump devices, it isn’t clear how much faster AirDrop data transfers would be than using Android Beam. Apple’s website demonstrates in a video an AirDrop sharing of an unspecified amount of data in a couple of seconds. The size of the file being shared is what will determine the speed of a transfer.

With 802.11ac theoretical speeds of up to 1.3Gbps (but much slower in practice), AirDrop transfers could be very fast when done in a peer-to-peer fashion over a common Wi-Fi network. By contrast, NFC is relatively slow, topping out at 424Kbps, although Bluetooth 4.0 is much faster, at up to 25Mbps.

Still, mobile wallet transactions usually comprise small data files and can make an NFC transfer in less than a second, while transferring an entire album of songs or photos over Android Beam can take a few seconds.

by Matt Hamblen, Computerworld


Check out the following links for more WWDC news, analysis and discussions:

iOS 7
Help: FAQ: everything you need to know about iOS 7
Blogs: 27 new iOS 7 features Apple didn’t talk about
News: Apple unveils iOS 7
Blogs: iOS 7: how its latest features stack up to Android
Blogs: Siri in iOS 7: Apple still playing catch up with Google, but moving aggressively
News: Siri gets smarter in iOS 7, ditches Google for search
Blogs: What Apple’s new AirDrop data sharing says about NFC
News: Apple’s law enforcement critics ‘appreciative’ of new activation lock

OS X Mavericks
Help: FAQ: everything you need to know about OS X Mavericks
News: Apple previews OS X ‘Mavericks’
News: iBooks to come to the Mac
News: Safari gets energy-efficient update in Mavericks

MacBook Air
Features: Lab tested: Haswell MacBook Air benefits from faster graphics, flash storage
News: New MacBook Airs get better battery life & graphics performance
News: Apple’s Mac move could spur PCIe flash flurry in notebooks, desktops
News: Intel’s new Haswell chips may be hot, but not in a good way

Mac Pro
News: The wait is nearly over: Apple unveils new Mac Pro
Features: The new Mac Pro: what you need to know
Help: Will your creative software run on the Mac Pro 2013?

Blogs: iOS 7, Mavericks and more: developers react to WWDC announcements
Blogs: Apple’s events move on, and so does the company
Blogs: Meet the new Apple, same as the old Apple
News: The Apple Design Award winners
News: Apple’s big-screen TV was a no-show at WWDC, but analysts say it’s coming soon
News: Anki’s AI cars show off App Store strength

News: Apple sees chance to compete with Office on the web
News: iWork for iCloud highlights productivity suite update

iTunes Radio
News: Apple gets into the stream of things with iTunes Radio



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