MasterCard and Intel have announced they'll be working together to put NFC readers into Ultrabooks that will secure online shopping as well as user identity.
The agreement between Intel and MasterCard involves putting PayPass-compatible terminals into Ultrabooks, so any thus-equipped Ultrabook will be able to operate as an electronic till for secure online payments, as well as supporting the NFC standard for reading company IDs and suchlike as well as connecting to other NFC devices.
Near Field Communications isn't really fast enough to synchronise data, but it is ideal for exchanging connection details, so NFC devices can be tapped together to set up a Bluetooth, or Wi-Fi, connection, but that's nice-to-have rather than a killer feature which will make someone buy an Ultrabook.
Ultrabooks already come with a secure identity, a unique ID embedded in the processor as "Intel Identity Protection Technology", but adding a PayPass reader expands that into the physical world. Companies should like the idea of workers logging on with a tap of the corporate-ID, and payments would be a lot more secure authenticated with PayPass then they usual typing of 16-digit numbers.
Not that this is the first attempt to integrate payment technology into a computer. Swipe-card readers have been available in keyboards for years, and at one point American Express was sending out chip 'n pin readers to any customer who asked.
But those schemes rely on the computer to process the transaction, and in these days of Trojans and hackers the computer can't be trusted. Embedding a PayPass reader in the Ultrabook should remove that dependency, with the computer just responsible for conveying the (encrypted) communication between the reader and MasterCard's servers, and displaying the result to the user.
Whether that's enough to make people buy Ultrabooks is more difficult to say. So far the market for the even-lighter-notebook-computers has proved very costs sensitive, and while adding NFC might be cheap it still has an incremental cost which the Ultrabook bill of materials may not be able to stand. ®