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QR codes have remained popular in Asia, where the square grids have long enabled smartphone camera users to instantly load websites tied to ads and product packages. Now that QR codes are also being used to facilitate financial transactions in China and Japan, the NFC Forum (via NFC World) has come up with a faster and more secure alternative.
Rather than having users and retailers rely upon printed, visual grids, the NFC Money Transfer (NMT) system uses the wireless near-field communication chips inside devices to facilitate transactions. NMT will enable two NFC devices to send and receive money with a simple connective tap, transferring the same data that would otherwise be stored in photographable QR codes via a secure radio connection.
If that sounds like an old or otherwise obvious use of NFC, that’s because the basic concept of device-to-device bumping for wireless data sharing has been around for over a decade — but it never caught on in certain places, in part due to the absence of secure element chips to hold sensitive financial data on devices. Companies such as Alibaba and WePay created QR code-based app workarounds that filled the gap in pre-NFC markets, enabling any user to display a QR code on a phone’s screen to authorize a withdrawal or deposit.
Now that NFC hardware is more common in Asia, the NFC Forum is hoping that its new solution will win over customers. Rather than requiring the transfer of financial data from or to a device’s secure element, NMT follows the same basic concept as a QR code transaction, using an app to create and share a one-time authorization with another device. Instead of representing the authorization visually, it’s a standard NDEF record sent over NFC, removing the need to use cameras to facilitate transactions.
The NFC Forum expects that NMT will work without issues on both Android and iOS phones, though it’s worth noting that Apple has not yet allowed apps unfettered access to its NFC hardware. It has taken steps towards greater openness over the past two years with its Core NFC framework, expanding NFC tag-reading support in iOS 11 and adding NFC background scanning capabilities to some iOS 12 devices, but doesn’t support NFC writing or broad use in third-party apps. By comparison, many Android devices include the full NFC hardware and software necessary to facilitate NMT transactions.
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