SHENZHEN, China — MediaTek, Taiwan's consumer electronics chip giant, will soon start sneaking into China's smartphones a newly invented proximity technology called Hotknot.
Hotknot might well be deemed the poor man's NFC, because it requires neither antenna nor RF communication chip. Instead, Hotknot enables proximity touch functions through a new generation of capacitor touch driver ICs designed for touch screens.
More specifically, Hotknot will use a touch sensor chip to send communication protocols, while a gravity sensor (G-sensor) ensures the actual contact, and a proximity sensor (P-sensor) detects the presence of nearby objects, thus verifying that the two objects are close enough.
HaoJung Li, product marketing manager of MediaTek’s wireless communications business unit. (Source: EE Times/Junko Yoshida)
"What NFC can do, Hotknot can also do," HaoJung Li, product marketing manager of MediaTek's wireless communications business unit, told us Tuesday in an interview here.
By usurping NFC, MediaTek is illustrating its growing confidence in the global market. The company wants to be seen as a leader, rather than a follower, by establishing a new spec and driving a new technology into the mobile world.
All-out war against NFC?
But with Hotknot, is MediaTek declaring an all-out war against NFC?
Although the Taiwan-based company certainly hopes to make Hotknot a globally accepted proximity technology over time, its approach will be gradual and practical.
Hotknot will start in China, where MediaTek has a sizeable market share among chips designed into smartphones. Hotknot's application will be initially limited to device pairing.
MediaTek, however, has its sights set on a clear opening for Hotknot in smartphones. The opportunity is there despite NFC's global presence in applications such as identification cards and mobile payments, and because NFC's penetration in smartphones has been slow in coming and still rather limited.
Li estimates only 10 percent of smartphones sold in China are integrated with NFC.
NFC promoters initially drove the technology by leveraging the secure element baked into the NFC chip.
In contrast, MediaTek's game plan is to get Hotknot designed into smartphones "almost free," while emphasizing the "fun" elements of physical touch, and promoting its ability to "pair everything" among consumers, explained Li. MediaTek hopes to add Hotknot to a broad range of consumer devices including smartphones, tablets, wearable devices, and even TVs, all of which are MediaTek strongholds as a platform vendor.
MediaTek knows that the mobile wallet will need to become a key application for Hotknot -- over time.
The video doesn't quite show what is the great features that Hotknot delivers while NFC couldn't. To me, it comes down to the choice between literally touch vs proximity. I prefer the latter that NFC delivers.
On the other hands, BLE is aiming the eWallet market as well. It might be interesting to compare all 3 techologies and rate their pros and cons.
I assume that the advantage is cost, since you can use the touch interface that is already built into the phone. Power should be less too.
I think you'd have to get a lot closer, though, and the data rate is a lot slower.
Still, if it is practically free to add this to a phone, maybe more phones will have it in the future. One of the problems with NFC is that not every phone has it (especially iPhones, which are a significant portion of the market). It is hard to get traction with a 'swipe to pay' NFC system unless lots of people have a device that can be used.
@tb100, I agree. The genius of Hotknot is in the business model. If MTK can leverage its strong presence in touch controller ICs (through Goodix and Mstar), they might be able to proliferate this thing a lot faster -- at least, initially in China.
Junko, I see the potential security aspect of this as being a key differentiator, especially for electronic transaction. Then combined with the cost and design simplicity, Hotknow has potential. The determining factor is adoption by the financial services industry. Thus far, the industry has been heavily divided. If any of the big players see value and adopt Hotknot, it could displace many NFC applications.