Amid the excitement and announcements made at Google’s I/O conference, Google announced a TV-connected device called the Nexus Q. The Nexus Q is similar to devices like the Apple TV and Google’s on Google TV sets in its ability to stream video and music from providers like Netflix and YouTube. Where it stands out aside from its round shape is in the fact that Google chose to include an NFC chip in the device.
NFC, short for Near Field Communications, is a technology standard and communications protocol. It specifies and enables devices to communicate without any configuration to exchange small bits of data. To communicate devices need to be near each other, normally to the point of touching or tapping. The main uses devised for NFC include things like train and bus tickets, payment systems (Visa PayWave, Google Wallet), billboards that send you to websites for additional content (Samsung), and even devices that talk to each other to spare you the configuration.
Google is a big believer in NFC and made it simple for device makers and software developers to build smartphones and applications that use its Android operating system. Google’s first NFC initiative had to do with payment – which is where most of the attention around NFC resides. Its Google Wallet service lets you pay with a credit card (presently just a Citibank credit card) by tapping NFC-enabled payment devices. But the Nexus Q brings into the fore something that is closer to Google’s bread and butter – advertising.
If you were unaware of this, Google is primarily an advertising company. The search engine lets Google make billions of dollars selling ads and placement to companies who want to be found when you search for products and services. While search makes Google huge amounts of money, the company always sought to expand on that base. Google’s forays into newspaper and radio advertising failed, yet its television advertising offering is still around.
With smartphones in every home and nearly every pocket, advertisers are looking for ways to activate consumers beyond showing them the television commercial. Commercials are meant to get you off the couch and into the store, online or the phone to buy the stuff brands are pushing. TV commercials are expensive but in most cases it works. Problem is that so far it was difficult to build a bridge between the television and the smartphone (or tablet).
Some attempted to use QR codes, square barcodes app can read using the smartphone camera, in television commercials. This was cumbersome as you had to make sure the TV viewer was ready, had an app that could read the barcode and you had to show the barcode for several seconds. All in tall that’s a lot of work.
Another angle is to use Shazam. Shazam is a popular smartphone app that identifies the artist and song by ‘listening’ to a short bit of music. Shazam is currently used to identify commercials using their soundtrack. The advertiser flashes the Shazam logo on the corner of the screen and hopes that you can get the app ready in time, that the room is not too noisy and that the audio is playing loud enough. It is also assumed that the app is installed on your phone and that you actually identify the icon on the screen. Again, quite a list of assumptions and a tall order for viewers to follow.
The hurdle can be summarized into awareness, activation and transmission. You need to be aware you can get something from your television – a link to a website, a coupon, an offer. You need to be activated – be able to react to a signal – an icon on the screen or some message in the television commercial. Finally, somehow the data or content needs to be transferred between the television and the smartphone.
NFC in the Nexus Q accomplishes two of the three tasks easily. With the Nexus Q Google can now activate viewers with smartphones with minimal effort. The bookcase example, in my opinion, is coupons. Imagine yourself watching a Tide laundry detergent commercial on television. A light turns on the Nexus Q, a message or an icon show up during the commercial to invite you to tap your phone on the Nexus Q. The tap sends your smartphone to the website where you can get the coupon. No apps necessary. It just happens, because that’s what NFC is: tap and go.
This can be taken a step further into instant commerce. With Google Pay or Wallet you can even order products from a TV commercial right to your home. You tap the Nexus Q, and with Google knowing your account information, an order can be made instantaneously.
Like with coupons, the Nexus Q can drive you to content that enriches your engagement with the currently playing TV show. Things like an app or a website, elements that extend your viewing experience. Transmedia (http://j.mp/LRFnAj) will become easier to accomplish for creative producers and visionaries.
Technically this Nexus Q NFC capability is very feasible. The main challenge will be to identify what you are presently watching. Companies are already doing that (http://j.mp/MZhpAB) which means that Google can develop its own technology or buy one of the players. Knowing what you are watching then enables Google to sell the NFC extension capability to advertisers and producers. These will in turn set up trusted web services that will communicate with Google’s own services to identify or just provision content to the Nexus Q owner. Sounds easy, right?
In summary, the Nexus Q brings NFC to television. Television makers do not have the vision or the motivation to put NFC in their sets, mostly because advertising is something they do on the demand side, not on the supply side. Google saw the opportunity and it is now coming. It is now only a matter of cost and adoption. And hopefully you also know that all of this is just conjecture and prognostication. I’m just really eager to see NFC do something meaningful. Beyond payments.