When the Nexus S first arrived late last year, it shipped with its NFC capabilities only partially enabled, supporting read-only interactions. Later software updates, in the form of Android 2.3.3, gave developers access to a new NFC API, unlocking the NFC chip’s potential. More recently, we’ve seen Android 2.3.5 enable secure NFC transmissions for e-commerce. While it would have been nice to have all the software in place for NFC at the time of the phone’s launch, adding features through incremental updates is a sensible way to introduce them after the fact. We’re reminded of all this now, looking at how some carriers are treating the newest generation of RIM’s BlackBerry hardware, disabling NFC functionality in software.
AT&T will start selling the BlackBerry Bold 9900 shortly, and rumors indicate the smartphone will arrive with its NFC chip switched off. Verizon already has its Bold 9930 out, and users have confirmed that NFC functionality is absent. When asked about this situation, RIM responded with the following message:
“RIM believes that NFC is an exciting technology that will enable many new capabilities, and we are aligning with our partners in supporting the overall NFC ecosystem by investing in NFC in our products. The BlackBerry Bold 9900 series are the first to be NFC ready, and we are working closely with carrier partners on their roll out plans for NFC.”
That avoids directly answering why Verizon is doing this, but this talk of an “NFC ecosystem” makes it look like the carriers may be withholding NFC access until they monetize the technology through some sort of mobile payment system. That may be a jaded read of the situation, but we’re finding it hard to understand why the feature is completely disabled, not even letting you scan passive tags.