Every New Year brings new anticipation for what’s developing in the world of technology. And with every New Year comes large tech conventions like CES and E3 to carry forth the very best of what’s here and what’s to come. Sometimes though, it can take a while for a new idea to really gain its footing as a consumer technology, as is the case with Near Field Communication; a nine year old radio communication standard that has only recently begun to see larger scale use. If there is one such piece of tech to watch out for in the next few years though, it will be NFC. Not easily convinced? Check out my five reasons for why I love NFC and why I believe you will too.
1. Dual Communication
NFC is essentially an advanced version of RFID technology that offers a method of two way communication between mobile readers that was lacking with its predecessor. With traditional RFID, an RFID reader could only pick up a signal from a tag holding a simple identification code or other piece of data. NFC throws this restriction away, allowing for not only reader to tag communication, but also for a direct peer-to-peer data transfer between two NFC devices.
The two main functions that put NFC apart from RFID are the card emulation and peer-to-peer modes. With card emulation, a NFC device is able to make itself appear like a NFC tag or smartcard to another NFC reader. This allows for the technique of traditional RFID contactless payment and ticketing to move from passive, pre-programmed cards and tags straight to programmable and interactive NFC enabled devices without any need for changing the existing infrastructure.
Peer-to-peer mode takes the technology a step further by allowing two NFC devices to exchange data directly. By taking basic RFID communication and extending it to include direct interfacing between actual devices, NFC can easily transmit more complex and larger pieces of data like photographs or music through the radio spectrum.
Founded and built with the help of Sony, Philips, and Nokia, NFC uses a specific low power, 13.5 MHz frequency that degrades after a distance of a few inches, requiring devices to be almost in direct contact of one another to work. Because of the numerous possible uses for a short range wireless communication standard like NFC, many mobile phone companies have begun incorporating NFC chips into their latest smartphones. When the iPhone 5 was released without a NFC chipset, competitor smartphone manufacturers Samsung, Nokia, and Motorola took a bet and began a heavy push for the technology in the hopes of distinguishing themselves from the mobile giant, Apple. Samsung even featured the use of NFC in their Galaxy SIII commercial while directly referencing the lack of the technology in their competitor. And it seems to have paid off. At the current rate, it is expected that nearly 50% of smartphones will have NFC chips built into them by 2014. This number may rise even more considering the recent rumors about Apple finally including NFC into the next generation of their iPhone.
3. Ease of Use
With a portable NFC chipset likely being built into almost every smartphone in the near future, companies focused in utilizing NFC technology have been springing up at a rapid rate. Tagstand is one such company, which is focused on bringing customizable NFC tag reading and writing to Android phones through a very user-friendly app. Just pick your basic program setting and click to set a command to a NFC tag of choice. For more programmers and advanced geeks, the android developer site offers a detailed guide on working with the standard.
On the reader side of the equation, the ease of use for NFC can’t get much simpler. Because NFC is usually turned on by default with many new phones, a user needs to just place their smartphone near a tag or other reader and let the code do the work. This has prompted a rush of creative applications like NFC tagged business cards and interactive posters to pop up in the last year or so.
A particularly big focus for NFC right now is the virtual wallet, with companies like Google, MasterCard, Verizon, and AT&T quietly pushing their mobile payment apps to tech-hungry consumers. Part payment method part loyalty program, the Google Wallet app has helped to legitimize the future trend of consumer focused retail. Apple has continued the trend further by patenting key features of their Passbook application, hinting at future NFC use within the digital coupon organizer. And while secure payments made directly through your phone seems like a novel concept, NFC doesn’t stop there.
A particular gold mine for life hackers, one popular application for NFC is in the automation of your smartphone. From setting your alarm with your nightstand to silencing your phone at your work desk, a tag can be set to instruct your smartphone to do just about anything. Samsung has also helped push the mobile sharing side of NFC with its TecTiles and Galaxy SIII AllShare apps, where your online social profiles and media can begin to cross over into the physical world around you with just a tap of your phone.
But beyond digital payments and general hobby application, can NFC actually have enough of an impact to make casual users fall in love with it? If Paypal's president has anything to say about it, it won’t. But his comments about the novelty of NFC shows a limited grasp of the truly innovative possibilities one can create using NFC.
5. Future Potential
Even with big name mobile backers like Samsung, Motorola, and Microsoft, NFC can still be considered in its infancy and its current state is merely the beginning of what is to come. With new wifi-enabled household products like Spark and Nest hitting the market, one can imagine a future where your entire household could automatically be set for your arrival or leave at a tap of your phone. With NFC tags being used in marketing products like movie posters, signs, and menus, consumers will be able to interact with the online world through real life objects. People will be able to load up and share movie trailers, website URLS, and other media instantly simply by placing their phones near a tag or other NFC device. And once social media giants like Facebook start directly supporting NFC, individuals will begin to actively share status updates, check-in at a local hotspot, and even add new Facebook friends by using their NFC enabled smartphones.
Outside of social media, NFC can also be utilized in other industries such as customer management, retail marketing, and medicine. If adapted, online and cloud based reservation services like Open Table and NoWait could start using NFC to transfer patrons’ contact details instantly into their reservation systems with a simple tap. No more asking for a name and number or giving out little vibrating buzzers to notify of an available table. Retailers could use NFC in price tags or signs to offer in-store deals or recommend add-on purchases to customers based on other products they are buying. Imagine a grocery store which could recommend recipes and show you where to buy the ingredients based off of a key meat or vegetable of your choice. Medical technology could use NFC to eventually allow for medical observation systems to wirelessly transfer a patient’s health data to a phone or tablet instantly. And with the recent announcement of a NFC chipset which offers both wireless data transfer and charging, one can see a very realistic future where chargers and usb cables have gone the way of the dodo; a time where charging and transferring data on or off of your phone can be as easy as setting it onto your desk or car’s dashboard.
Now, NFC is not without fault and many people still have concerns over the security problems brought forth from the wireless standard. Like most every digital device on the market today, NFC enabled devices can still be hacked. And in a future where our phones may easily be more important than our wallet, it will be vital for NFC’s survival that the phone and chipset manufacturers ensure proper security controls are put in place to prevent abuse and protect user information. Either way though, I’m excited to see how else this technology will make an impact in the next two years.