Chances are you only recently learned the term ‘NFC’, or perhaps this is the first time you've heard it, but near field communication technology is set to take the world by storm in the coming year. It’s basically an evolution of the short-range wireless tech known as ‘RFID’, currently used in London’s Oyster cards for tapping your way through barriers.
However, despite the fact that NFC has been around for ages, smartphones with built-in NFC support have only just emerged in the past few months. Mostly this is a future-proofing move: we’re still a little way off using NFC in our daily lives. Still, there are already some great uses for this tech, and soon you’ll likely be using it every day for sharing your files and paying for that lunchtime baguette...
A super-brief history of NFC
Current uses of NFC
If you haven’t had the chance to use NFC yet, here are some of the cool things you can already do...
Pay for stuff!
One of the major benefits of NFC is paying for goods in stores, restaurants and bars with just a swipe of your mobile - not only is it convenient, it's pretty damn cool too. Check out our full guide to phone payments, including why you should be excited and any burgeoning security concerns...
Share with others
Samsung’s excellent Galaxy S III smartphone comes with a cool ‘S Beam’ feature, which allows users to share pretty much anything they want with a fellow S III user. Found a really cool website that you want to show to your friends? Simply tap your phone against theirs and the site will pop up almost instantly on their screen. Just heard an amazing song that you think your workmate will love? Again, with a simple tap you can transfer it over.S Beam uses NFC technology to transfer this data wirelessly between the two handsets, much like you’d use Bluetooth to share files between a couple of compatible devices. NFC is a little slower than Bluetooth, so you’ll be waiting longer for a large file, but it also uses less power, which means your phone’s battery life won’t plummet. You also avoid the hassle of ‘pairing up’ the devices (a process which often involves pushing down buttons, finding the other phone, and then entering PIN numbers, only to receive some ‘not compatible’ error message – followed swiftly by cursing and fist-shaking).Sharing your media and other interesting bits isn’t just limited to mobile phones, however. Soon your home TV and PC, as well as other household devices, should also support NFC. Imagine nudging your phone against the telly, and seeing all of the photos and videos you’ve taken pop up on the screen. Or tapping against the computer to grab your work docs, to edit on the move. No more cables and other related hassle would sure be a wondrous thing.
Tag, you’re it
Sony’s Xperia S introduced us to the SmartTag, an inventive way to make use of the phone’s NFC receiver. These miniature plastic tags with built-in NFC chips are designed to sit in one place – for instance, your office or your bedroom – and adjust your phone’s profile to suit the location.
Take the morning commute, for instance. You stumble into your car, overjoyed at the prospect of a new working day, and tap your phone against the SmartTag dangling from your rear-view mirror. You’ve already programmed your phone to recognise this tag, through the very simple set-up process, and told it to start up your favourite traffic app so you can check how the roads are doing.
The tag also sets your phone to silent, so you aren’t disturbed while driving. You can program these tags to launch almost any app, open a website and fiddle with your profile settings (right down to the background image) when the phone touches them, making them flexible as well as fun.
NFC has been used for similar purposes in other phones – for instance, LG’s Optimus L7 also uses wireless tags to update your phone and open apps. It might not sound revolutionary, but it’s just a small example of how practical and time-saving NFC can be.
Wanna hear more?
You spot a poster at a bus stop, shopping centre or some other public venue. It shows off some amazing new product, say, a hot new movie that’s about to hit cinemas. Your interest is piqued and you want to know more. Right now you’d have to scan the poster for some kind of web address, open your phone’s browser, type it in and wait – and chances are you’ll end up on some complex desktop website that grinds your humble mobile to a shuddering halt. But once advertisements come as standard with built-in NFC, all you’ll have to do is tap your phone on the poster to be presented with an app or phone-friendly website featuring photos, trailers and more.
Of course, we already have QR codes, which perform a similar action – you scan the code with your phone’s camera, which then takes you to the appropriate website. However, this isn’t perfect technology, and occasionally we have to spend ages getting the QR code in focus, moving our phones back and forth and to the sides to line it up just right. With NFC, you simply pull out your mobile, tap it and that’s it.
This idea isn’t just limited to adverts either. You could use NFC to grab a menu for a restaurant as you pass, or download a sample track from an album that you’re tempted to buy. We’re looking forward to seeing all kinds of cool and useful applications in the near future.
Check out our full guide to paying for stuff with your NFC phone, and our hands-on experience when we hit London stores and restaurants with not a penny in our pockets...