Apple iPhone 4 Getting NFC Payment Abilities in Japan with ‘Stickers’

A sticker can turn an iPhone 4 into a portable, wireless credit card.

Japan’s iPhone 4s will receive the ability to function as mobile payment options through the magic of near field communication (NFC) in February 2011. Before you start clamoring for your own iPhone 4 to do the same, realize that Japanese carrier Softbank is relying on a third-party option to make its iPhone 4s NFC capable. Thin, adhesive “stickers” that attach directly to the back of the iPhone 4 are behind Softbank’s plans.

These stickers attach to the iPhone 4’s exterior and are thin enough to allow all cases to still fit properly. While they do not actually communicate with the iPhone 4, the NFC stickers do work with NFC scanners at retailers, restaurants, etc. Think of them basically as a dumb, temporary stop-gap solution for something Apple will most likely add in the iPhone 5.

NFC has quickly caught on in Japan—much faster than the iPhone even—and consumers are demanding the ability. Because really, who wants to have to carry around a credit card and a phone? That is just way too much effort. Sarcasm aside though, with Google’s new Nexus S smart phone packing an NFC chipset inside, it is a fairly safe bet that the technology will eventually edge out the wallet. Funny how a technology that is just coming to the public’s attention is expected to quickly replace a staple in human culture since pretty much the invention of paper money…

It should be noted however that the sticker system does not offer the same security features that Google’s NFC system, or what Apple is rumored to be working on, offer. In fact, half of the advantage of NFC integrated into smartphones is the security they offer over regular credit and debit cards. (The other half is ease of use of course.)

With an NFC credit card, waving it in front of a reader will trigger the payment process. The same goes with one of these iPhones with an NFC sticker on the back. Unfortunately, if your phone or card is stolen, someone can just wave it in front of a reader and ring up your bill. The NFC systems that will eventually be integrated into smartphones offer more security by requiring the user to have the phone in an unlocked, usable state. Without the PIN, no NFC payment can be processed.

Whether or not carriers in the U.S. will try out something like Softbank in Japan is doing remains to be seen. Why does Japan get the 3D smartphones, wireless mobile payment and everything else good first? Let me know what you think in the comments. NFC stickers a good idea or too big of a security risk?

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