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The biggest problem with near-field communications is that no one’s using it.

While NFC evangelists have heralded the new tap-happy age of communications, few tech companies are embracing NFC in any major way. Mobile payments are floundering, Apple’s not interested, and the average person just doesn’t care.

But perhaps the tap isn’t dead. Taking a different approach to the idea is TouchBase, an NFC alternative that draws on one thing all smartphones already have — touchscreens.

Like QR codes, TouchBase’s technology embeds digital codes in physical objects. These codes, which you create via patterns of invisible capacitive ink, mimic finger touches when tapped on touchscreens.

In the most obvious use case example, people could embed TouchBase’s technology in their business cards, which would evoke contact information when accessed. TouchBase also — unsurprisingly — envisions uses in payments, advertising, and ticketing.

TouchBase’s use cases are, in short, almost identical to those of QR codes and NFC —  a reality that isn’t lost on the TouchBase team. As TouchBase CEO Sai To Yeung notes, any situation where you could conceivably use those technologies, you can also use TouchBase.

The difference, as Yeung explains, is in reach.

“Our biggest advantage is compatibility. We can use this across all smartphones,” Yeung said. As Yeung puts it, TouchBase takes the best parts of QR codes and NFC and tosses everything else.

TouchBase isn’t without its challenges. One of the biggest initial hurdles is overcoming the possibility of false positives. “The worst thing that can happen is you tap your card and someone else’s info pops up,” Yeung said.

The other concern is whether TouchBase will meet the same floundering fate as both NFC and QR codes, technologies that are built on good ideas but pulled down by some basic realities. It’s too early to say for sure, but if TouchBase’s predecessors are any indication, the technology is certain to have its share of struggles.


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