Saturday, 28 January 2012

What is NFC and How Will the Wii U Use It?

What is NFC and How Will the Wii U Use It?

We break down NFC and make a few guesses about how Nintendo plans to use it.

Yesterday, Nintendo president Satoru Iwata informed investors that the Wii U will utilize near-field communication (NFC) technology, which it says can be used for a variety of applications, including micro-transactions for its upcoming online service, the Nintendo Network. We're unlikely to learn more about how the feature will be implemented until E3 in June, but in the meantime, let's go over the basics of NFC and a few educated guesses about what Nintendo has planned.

What is NFC?
Like Wi-Fi or Bluetooth, NFC is a method for exchanging data between two or more devices. Instead of establishing connections across a wide coverage area, however, NFC was designed specifically for data transmissions between a very small distance, often within a range of only a few centimeters. The purpose of NFC is to offer a safe, two-way method of data exchange that can only work when two devices are within close proximity, foregoing the need for a Wi-Fi base station or Bluetooth pairing.
While NFC data transfer speeds are slower than Bluetooth or Wi-Fi, establishing a connection is considerably faster and the chips powering the technology consume less energy.

Currently, NFC chips can be found on a number of smartphones, including BlackBerry devices, Nokia phones, and a number of Android devices. The recently released Samsung Galaxy Nexus can use NFC technology to transfer data, share web pages and apps, and even pay for items purchased at stores.

What Could It Mean for the Wii U?
While the practical applications for smartphones and similar devices is clear, what could Nintendo have in mind for NFC in the Wii U?
Iwata stated that "it will become possible to create cards and figurines that can electronically read and write data," which will enable the company to produce toys and other collectibles that can be used to unlock in-game content, similar to the kind found in Skylander's Spyro's Adventure. Additionally, Iwata went on to say that it "will enable various other possibilities such as using it as a means of making micropayments." In a way, the Wii U could potentially use NFC as a way of adding currency to your Nintendo Network account, allowing users to buy prepaid cards at retailers and simply wave them near their console to add the value to their profile.
But the inclusion of NFC could hint at expanded functionality for the Wii U controller.

When it was originally introduced, the company said that the Wii U controller was dependent on pairing to the console, however, it also said that the product wasn't final and software demos were proof of concepts. Could the Wii U controller be used as a standalone device, albeit in a limited capacity?
It's possible that controller could be used to store your profile and play games on the go. While packing the controller with processors powerful enough to play 3D titles is undoubtedly too expensive and taxing to the battery, it could easily support small, lightweight software like 2D Virtual Console. With NFC-enabled, the Wii U controller could also be used to trade game data when player's are out and about, like new Pokemon characters or in-game collectibles. What's more, StreetPass could be extended to the controller itself, allowing users to swap Miis and play microgames.
Of course, we'll have to wait until Nintendo takes the stage at E3 to know for sure, but we can always count on the rumor mill for pre-event chatter, so stay tuned to video game world for more. Until then, share your ideas for how the Wii U will use NFC in the comments below.


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