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Angry Birds Helps NFC Take Flight

NFC, or near field communication, involves much more than payments, as we've noted.It can used for a lot of things—unlocking levels in Angry Birds now included. Rovio is teaming with Nokia to offer a Symbian version of its popular title, Angry Birds Magic, in which most levels will be unlocked through interaction with NFC tags and NFC-enabled phones.

The game, which will be initially available exclusively on NFC-enabled Symbian C7 smartphones as part of the latest Symbian Anna update, will feature 20 levels, the first five of which can be played normally. After that, players will have to tap another NFC-enabled phone to unlock the next block of five levels. Users that can't find another NFC-enabled phone can unlock blocks of levels by waving their phones next to certain NFC tags embedded in objects. Nokia doesn't say where these will be, but I'm guessing that access might be tied to a retailer or chain and perhaps linked to a promotion.

Nokia said the game will also be preloaded on further NFC-enabled phones to be shipped this year. Rovio is working on a full version of Angry Birds Magic for the Ovi Store that will include more levels and more ways to interact using NFC.

Needed: Applications That Offer Value

While this has limited appeal to non-Symbian users and is more of a gimmicky promotion by Nokia, it still represents an additional way to exploit the power of NFC. As we've noted, NFC has been framed largely as a payment play, but it has many other uses, from mobile marketing and coupons to app discovery and check-ins. What will help NFC take off and be embraced by users is an onrush of real-world applications that offer them value.

In that light, it's not a bad idea for Nokia to use Angry Birds to sell consumers on NFC. Social gaming is relatively comfortable ground upon which to introduce the short-range wireless technology. Angry Birds is not so popular that it would cause people to rush out to buy an NFC-enabled Nokia smartphone, but it raises awareness around the relatively young technology, which is needed to get NFC off the ground.

If the Nokia promotion goes well, expect Rovio to bring this to NFC-enabled Android devices and Apple iPhones, should they get NFC. This is a further case of Rovio—which recently raised $42 million in funding—using its growing heft to champion something.Last year the company introduced a proprietary carrier billing payment system called Bad Piggy Bank. Rovio is also looking at leveraging Angry Birds's fame into movies, TV shows, and merchandise. With NFC, Rovio is again showing that it wants Angry Birds to make the transition from a mere game to something with broader value and impact.

Also from GigaOM:

NFC + Retail = Fail (subscription required)

It's Time for European Startups to Come Good

What Apple's App Store Changes Mean for Users

25 Photos from the Japanese Nuclear Disaster

Look Out Skype! T-Mobile Powers Facebook VoIP

Ryan has covered personal technology and wireless for the San Francisco Chronicle and now writes for GigaOM.

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