Microsoft has announced that Windows Phone 8 will officially support NFC, as has been rumored for quite some time. The announcement isn't limited to hardware support — Microsoft has introduced an all-new Wallet Hub for Windows Phone, which will be the sole home for all purchases on the devices: contactless payments, deals, loyalty cards, in-app purchases, and credit and debit cards.
"Every Windows Phone will include the wallet hub."
Microsoft went through a fairly detailed walkthrough of the new Wallet Hub during the Windows Phone Summit today. The first page of the hub features an "all" list that shows everything, just as the name suggests: your credit cards, loyalty cards, and others. Specific companies and programs that showed up in the demo were PayPal, Chase, Fandango, and Delta, but you could also save your library card and more to the hub. Just over to the right, there's a "deals" page that offers a list of suggested nearby discounts. How each deal is redeemed will depend on the deal itself — one showed off in the demo displayed a scannable QR code on-screen. The hub also integrates with the new Nokia Maps. If you click on a deal in the hub you'll be presented the deal page, which offers details on how to redeem as well as links to see the location of the store inside of Maps. It also works the other way around — deals will show up right in Maps if you're looking for places to go from within that app.
Of course, Microsoft is making a major push with contactless mobile payments, too. Joe Belfiore of Microsoft's Windows Phone team didn't offer too many details on the contactless system, but he made a point of specifying that it differs from services like Google Wallet because it uses a secure payment element embedded into SIM cards, rather than the phone itself. The benefits of such a system aren't glaringly apparent, though Belfiore gave the example that it'd be easy to swap your wallet from once device to another by simply moving your SIM card. So far the only SIM cards that has been announced are from the telecom Orange France.
"We expect to have a solution with ISIS next year, but not at launch."
If Google's experience with contactless payments has taught us anything, it's that the number of competitors in the space makes it very difficult to get such a system to stick. Belfiore said that the company has been working with ISIS — which is backed by many major US wireless carriers — and that "we expect to have a solution with ISIS next year, but not at launch." If Microsoft can pull it off the system may be able to gain some traction, especially since Belfiore says that "every Windows Phone will include the wallet hub." This means that current devices running Mango will get the new Wallet hub, though access to contactless functionality will be limited to those who can get an NFC-enabled SIM from their carrier.
Other than payments, Microsoft is showing that it has much larger plans for NFC. Belfiore showed on stage that you could import contact information from an NFC-enabled business card, and he also interacted with an issue of Wired that had a contactless element built in. Additionally, a new feature called "Tap + Send" works much like Android Beam, allowing you to bump your phone against another device to share content. What's different is that this is going to integrate with devices other than phones — like Windows 8 tablets and laptops that have NFC built-in. There are more uses for this than might first come to mind: on stage a Scrabble-like game called "Spell It" was demoed, and two offline devices created a peer-to-peer network to play on by simply tapping them against each other.
"The most complete wallet experience."
To-date, the People Hub has been the premier demonstration of the benefits of Microsoft's Hubs, but the new Wallet Hub makes quite an argument to take that crown. Microsoft's goal is quite clear: instead of having a list of individual apps for payments, everything should be integrated into a single place that replaces your wallet and also offers live updates on your accounts and access to nearby deals. It's a high goal, indeed: we'll have to see how and if Microsoft can pull it off.