We're excited about NFC, with all its wallet-replacing, house-unlocking, Wi-Fi-password-remembering potential. But NFC does require a hardware chip, and that means we're at least a few years from real adoption. The recently announced Zoosh is a wireless protocol that can handle many of the features we're so anxiously awaiting in NFC--but without any new hardware, you could theoretically get Zoosh on your smartphone with a mere app download.
You can read our full primer on NFC here, but as a basic summary, NFC is a short-range wireless tech similar to RFID, in which small chunks of information can be passed among devices like smartphones and all sorts of other appliances like point-of-sale units, subway entry points, and even less mechanical items like movie posters. There's only one major NFC-enabled smartphone--the Samsung Nexus S--in the U.S. at the moment, and the infrastructure is in its infancy, but other countries have robust NFC or NFC-type setups and all signs point to a North American embrace as well.
But NFC is a few years off, and Zoosh is here right now. Zoosh, coming from a small Silicon Valley startup, is a software solution that uses the audio hardware found in phones to communicate. As every phone is necessarily equipped with a speaker and microphone, Zoosh saw an opening to use that hardware, rather than create something new. To send data (whether it's a URL, a phone number, or payment information), Zoosh broadcasts ultrasonic audio in a frequency not audible to human ears, around 20,000Hz. A speaker in another phone (or, later, a point-of-sale unit, which the startup claims can be upgraded for only $30) picks up that audio and translates it back into the intended data. You can see it in action in this wholly Silicon Valley video.