By Stephen Schenck | June 20, 2011 5:12 PM
With NFC hardware still not in widespread deployment in smartphones, some creative souls have come up with novel work-arounds to duplicate the same sort of functionality with existing hardware. We looked at one, for instance, that modulated a magnetic field to transfer data via your phone’s digital compass. A system called Zoosh aims to share data between devices using ultrasonic sound, but does it have what it takes to be an NFC-killer?
Zoosh uses your smartphone’s microphone and speaker to generate and listen for ultrasonic pulses, just above the human range of hearing, in order to communicate with other devices, like a retailer’s cash register. Don’t let the fact that it uses audio put you off; such a system needn’t be any less secure than one using radio waves. Naratte, the company behind Zoosh, says that the technology is resistant to interference from ambient noise, and is difficult to eavesdrop upon from any kind of distance, not that it would matter with secure communication protocols.
The problem with Zoosh is that it’s a technical solution for a problem that’s already solved, and doesn’t address the issues at the core of smartphone-based payments. Sure, it may pull off an NFC-like exchange of data without any extra smartphone hardware (and adding Zoosh to retail POS equipment is said to be quite cheap, in the $30 range), but that’s nothing you couldn’t do using 2D barcodes, screens, and cameras, like Starbucks does already.
What we need, if the companies behind them want to see them succeed, is for these systems to offer benefits above and beyond cash or credit cards. In the time it takes to pull out your smartphone, you could just as easily pull out a $20, so why go to the trouble of starting up an app? Google may have the right idea with Google Offers, tied to its Wallet platform, letting you in on extra savings. For Zoosh to succeed, Naratte needs to get involved with a program like that.