The “new” Android is awesome because of one simple acronym: NFC. In this case, we’re not referring to the National Football League’s conference, but rather near field communication. NFC is basically a sticker (check out this photo for some examples) with a short range micro-radio (RFID) placed inside, which broadcasts a signal and tells the receiving program or device how to operate. These stickers are called, “NFC tags.” This video gives a pretty good synopsis of NFC technology:
Google introduced mobile NFC to the Android world in 2010, with its first Nexus phone. During the 2011 Google I/O, engineers Nick Pelly and Jeff Hamilton really introduced NFC and highlighted the potential uses. From there, the concept spread, and now a substantial number of newer Android-based phones, and some tablets, contain NFC capabilities.
Unfortunately for consumers, the NFC tags haven’t caught on commercially quite yet. Some companies are already using the technology to enable features like card-less payments:
MS tech God, Ben Schorr even suggested an interesting use of NFC for non-profits during the Christmas holiday season:
I like the idea of NFC, and use NFC tags in my home to automate some features like guest WiFi access. I even set up a link for my wife to access the grocery shopping list in Evernote.
You’re going to need to look online for NFC tags, since they’re probably not sold at your local tech store. I picked up some cheap tags here (if you link through the mobile app, you can purchase a 25 pack of assorted tags for $21.95 with shipping), and you’ll find some pretty good deals on Amazon.
I’ve already thought of a number of ways lawyers can use this technology. Here are a few of my thoughts:
- Business cards with NFC contact information – an attorney could embed his/her contact information into a NFC tag to give to clients
- Mobile payments link – Ben suggested non-profit payments, but if you have a payment portal to accept credit card payments, why not embed that link onto a tag and stick the tag on your invoice? You could also use a QR code to embed the link too. Better yet, why not develop mobile payment capabilities that automatically transfer funds from the client’s account to your account?
- Office WiFi access – I hate finding the WiFi office password to link clients and other to our guest account. Why not embed an NFC tag with the WiFi access codes already built in? Similar to the mobile payments, you can use a QR code.
While NFC tags function similar to QR codes, and you may be thinking, “why don’t I just use a QR code, it would be cheaper?”, NFC tags can perform functions that QR codes cannot.
For instance, you can use an NFC tag to enable or disable functions, applications, and settings when you enter or exit your vehicle. I use my car NFC tag to turn on/off my Bluetooth, open Waze navigation and Pandora when I plug my phone into my car dock.
At home, I use a tag to silence my phone and disable services when I’m sleeping. No more annoying chirps, chimes, or rings.
I have another tag attached to my key ring that contains code to silence my phone. I use this when I’m walking into court, church, or some other private place and I want to be sure my phone is silent.
NFC isn’t perfect, and there are certainly several apps (Locale and Tasker), that will perform these functions. My Motorola Droid Bionic had a “Smart Actions” feature, that was neither smart nor very actionable. I came to realize that I didn’t like relying on these applications when I frantically raced to silence an already “silent” phone. Plus, these types of apps seem to be bigger resource hogs.
NFC tags take very little thought to program, require very little effort to operate, and have not, as of yet, left me scrambling to silence my phone. I think the possibilities are endless, though I doubt NFC technology will remain a one-sided protocol: consumers searching for NFC-capable systems or venues.