updated 05:45 pm EST, Mon December 13, 2010
Google acquires NFC firm Zetawire
Google today was discovered as having bought previously low-profile firm Zetawire to improve its support for near-field communications (NFC) in Android phones like the Nexus S. The Toronto-based company had barely begun but had a US patent for an end-to-end way to pay for goods in person with a mobile device like a smartphone. It had closed the deal in August but hadn't been found until the 451 Group unearthed details in the wake of the Nexus S debut.
The Android phone maker has only used NFC in a very limited capacity so far and for now is using it for Google Places tags that will let users jump to a store's info page just by bringing the phone close. Zetawire may give Google an easier way to implement a full payment system and let users rely on Google Checkout or other methods to handle day-to-day payments, such as mass transit or at concerts.
NFC is expected to become much more ubiquitous in 2011 both in actual deployment and in phones. Most major US carriers are putting their trust in Isis, which could settle on a common standard for the very short range wireless payments across the US. RIM has pledged itself to NFC in BlackBerry phones in the near future, and Nokia has said all its 2011 smartphones should have the standard.
Google may be most concerned about inroads from Apple. It's rumored to be integrating NFC into the iPhone 5 and may use for NFC-based portable Mac accounts, where a user could bring a profile over just by bringing an iPhone close to a suitably equipped computer. Apple, Google and most others are also likely to use NFC to get a foothold in Japan, where NFC has been used for years in the FeliCa system that many rely on for subway trains and some shopping.