iPhone 5’s NFC snub will keep technology out of mainstream

UPDATED: As with most of the rumors about the iPhone 5, Apple’s (s aapl) decision to forgo near field communication (NFC) for its latest smartphone proved true as well. It’s not surprising though it deals a setback to the short-range wireless technology, which is still waiting for its breakout moment.

Apple had plenty of reasons not to include NFC. With its focus on getting the device as thin and light as possible, adding an NFC chip would have been that much more of an impediment. And more likely, Apple is not convinced now is the time to adopt it. While we’re seeing NFC appear in more high-end phones, like the Galaxy S III and Nokia 920 (s nok), consumers don’t have many applications and use cases for the technology and merchants still need to make more investments in hardware to handle NFC payments.

We’ve suggested that Apple could be a big catalyst for NFC and mobile payments if it embraced the technology. Equipping the most popular phone with NFC would have a been huge education moment for consumers and a big validation for NFC. Developers could also get on board and create some really interesting apps with Apple’s encouragement. And with its upcoming Passbook application in iOS 6, which aggregates tickets, loyalty and pre-payment cards, Apple could have an easy way to apply NFC technology in the iPhone 5.

Startups like LevelUp, a mobile payment and loyalty company, were hoping that Apple would include NFC, with LevelUp going so far as upgrading its payment terminals just in case. But now, there’s going to be more grumbling that NFC is still a technology in search of a problem.

As we’ve said earlier, NFC is much more than just payments and can facilitate personal media and information sharing, building access, marketing and easy Bluetooth pairing. Google (s goog), BlackBerry (s rimm), Nokia and Samsung have all shown different ways in which NFC can be used. But without many common applications that can work between those devices, there’s fewer chances for people to really adopt the technology. With a new iPhone likely to be a best seller, there would have been a lot of ways for people to get acquainted with NFC-actions. Now, the promise of NFC will still struggle to be fulfilled for at least another year.

UPDATE: Apple’s senior VP of marketing Phil Schiller said in an interview with AllThingsD that NFC was still not necessary to fix any specific problems or provide functionality that wasn’t already available. “Passbook does the kinds of things customers need today,” he said.