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NFC will help users find romance, store vital documents and experience 'magic,' boosters say

CHICAGO -- By now you're likely familiar with near-field communications (NFC) technology and its ability to help process mobile payments. But NFC's boosters think it's capable of more, oh, so much more.

During the NFC Summit at 4G World in Chicago this week, representatives from many companies in the NFC market stressed that mobile payments were just the beginning of the many uses that NFC capabilities will bring to our smartphones. Hans Reisgies, an NFC guru and senior vice president of products and sales at Sequent Software, said that he can't wait to see how NFC-enabled phones improve the experience of dating.

"Let's say you're at a social function and there's an attractiveness between you and another person there but you don't know if you want to spend time trying to get to know them," he said. "So what do we do? Well, we could do standard questions-and-answers. Or we take out our phones and tap them together to exchange our eHarmony IDs. This gets me a compatibility score immediately so we now know how eHarmony thinks of our compatibility."

BACKGROUND: Google Wallet: Five things you need to know

Hank Chavers, an associate principle at the Constratus technology consulting firm, said that the Secure Element chip embedded in Google Wallet could let people store several vital documents, including birth certificates, passports and driver's licenses on their smartphones where they could be accessed easily upon request. Secure Element is a chip that is separate from a device's memory that is used to store encrypted credit card data and is designed to "self-destruct" if anyone tampers with it. With this kind of James Bond-style security in place, Chavers said there's no reason that Google Wallet can't keep sensitive identity information just as safe as mobile payment information.

Of course, panelists at the NFC Summit also acknowledged that for these new and innovative uses of NFC to catch on, it would have to work as a mobile payment platform first.

"I've always said I want to see NFC make dating easier but Match.com and eHarmony aren't yet willing to make an upfront investment in the infrastructure to make that a reality," said Reisgies. "Once the payment industry has made that investment and has built all that infrastructure we can do many, many more things with NFC."

But even though mobile payments will inevitably be NFC's bread-and-butter application, that doesn't mean mobile payments will be just about the dry process of paying for goods with your phone. Osama Bedier, Google's vice president of payments, said today that the mobile payment system had to deliver "magical experiences" to users that would break their habits of using standard credit cards or paying with cash. Among other things, Bedier envisioned Google Wallet giving users the ability to purchase airline boarding passes with their phones and then storing digital copies of their passes on their phones where they could be used in lieu of paper documents. He also pictured giving users the ability to preorder coffee over their phones and to have it ready for them when they reached the cafe, thus eliminating the need to wait in lines.

"Google Wallet is all about magical moments that save time and money," said Bedier.

Reisgies echoed NFC's "magical" potential throughout his panel discussion and suggested that NFC could even make standing in line to pay for something "cool" if used properly.

"There is some magic about NFC," he said. "The consumers say, 'Isn't that cool, I just paid with my phone. And the people in the line behind me they may now think I'm cool too.'"

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