NFC – What you need to know *Updated* with forum link

NFC stands for Near Field Communication you may have seen it in shops now as contactless payment basically its a set of standards for smartphones that enables the transfer of data such as text or numbers between two NFC enabled devices. NFC tags, like stickers, key fobs or wristbands, contain a microchip with an aerial which can store a small amount of information for transfer to another NFC device, such as a mobile phone. there is a bewildering array or NFC tags available on the market some of which I will fill you in on later.

Ever since I heard the announcement that the next Nexus device from Google after the Nexus 1 was going to be NFC enabled I was a tad excited, why? My initial thoughts were “this is awesome! I’ll never have to carry my Oyster card or entry card for my office again”. What I didn’t know is that my Oyster card and my office entry card are both RFID which is different to NFC so I still have those cards; but I still thought the technology was cool and wanted to be able to do more with it and apps for android using NFC has moved on a great deal since the release of the Nexus S back in December 2010!

One thing I am concerned about with NFC is security not on the phone but for things like contactless payment cards, there’s an app called NFC pickpocket where of you tap your NFC enabled bank card to the back of your NFC enabled phone and on the phone it will display your card details, now it only shows you part of them otherwise the app could be open to abuse but it still shows the ability to take these details from your debit card. I put my whole wallet on there to see if it could be read from there and I’m assuming because of all the other cards I had in there that it couldn’t be read but something to consider if you have a NFC enabled bank card. I actually changed my wallet to a Jimi wallet recently so thought I’d try this again and found that the app could read my bank card from one side of the wallet but not the other, so my security solution for protecting against any would be thief who just happens to have an NFC reader to steal card details off of NFC enabled bank cards is to stick an NFC sticker on the side of my wallet with the text “Nice try chump!” encoded onto it so if someone does try read my wallet that is the message they will get back!

One particularly stupid adaptation of using NFC technology for transactions is Barclays PayTag its a sticker you stick on the back of your phone or anything else for that matter, you may be thinking it’s just the same as having a NFC enabled bank card and in some respects yes it is but for your cards you may have the details obscured to threats like this from other cards on your wallet or an insulated wallet like my example of using another NFC tag on your wallet to protect your card detail inside

Now onto how awesome the technology is! Now there are some OEMs that are making good use of NFC tags Sony Xperia SmartTags and Samsung TecTile being two recent ones that are selling the tags along with apps available on the Google Play store which enables you to program your own tags. The Sony Xperia ones I can’t comment on because I don’t have one but I have it on good authority that they are pre-programmed to specific “theme” (Home/Office/Bedroom/Car) and then you specify what each theme is doing via app. That means whenever you change behaviour for each tag in the app, you don’t have to touch tag to write it. For example, when you touch “Home” tag, app picks up tag as “Home” and then executes all actions associated with that tag. Really nifty.

My galaxy Nexus running CyanogenMod 9 has profiles programmed into it where you can create profiles for any situation such as Home and Work where you can set quite a lot of settings on your phone and then encode that onto a NFC tag, the tag will toggle between the profile it was on before the one it has just been set to, so for example if I’m using a default profile then I tap it on my home profile it will switch to that, tap it again and it will switch back to the default profile. So for when you get home of an evening you can tap on your tag you have encoded with your home profile with your phone and it will turn on your WiFi set the ringing volume to a quieter level for when you are indoors and turn off your GPS


I have a night time profile where by my bed where I tap that and it turns off mobile data, bluetooth, GPS, WiFi and data sync to save as much battery as possible overnight when I’m not using it then tap it again in the morning to go back to the profile I was using beforehand.
Another good use is for when you have friends visiting and they want to use your WiFi at home, you can program the access code into a tag so theres no need fo them to know it, just tap the tag and they have access to your WiFiThere are quite a lot of apps available for NFC tag writing and here’s a couple I use NFC Task Launcher £1.26 from the play store but well worth it with excellent options for programming tags, one really good option on there is the ability to encode Tasker tasks! NFC TagInfo by NXP is really good for giving you information about the tag you are reading and it’s sister app NFC TagWriter by NXP which is limited but free from the Google Play store and I also like the Samsung TecTile US,Canada only app which is meant for the SGSIII also free but not available in the Play store for people outside of US and Canada for some reason?? Strange as the SGSIII hasn’t even launched in those countries yet, maybe it’s the proprietary tags that Samsung are selling that aren’t available in other countries I don’t know really but it is a nice app. Here’s a link to the apk I have pulled from my phone whils impersonating I was in the US

So tags, what to buy and where?? I have had tags imported in the past because of the lack of information on sites relating to the tags use with mobile phones but I have found rapidnfc.comand they do live up to their names, I ordered 10 Ultralight tags from them for £6.50 and they turned up the next day! Very impressive! The site is a great resource if you want to find out more about NFC tags and the types you can get, it also goes into detail about the NFC issues there were in ICS 4.0.0 to 4.0.2 so if you are thinking about getting NFC tags for use on your phone make sure it’s on the correct software version before proceeding, it’s not a massive issue with the NDEF Format Bug it just means you need your tags pre formatted and RapidNFC do that for you as part of the serviceI think this is a really neat technology and a lot more adaptable than bluetooth but adoption for things like payments which I love even with the vulnerabilities of current payment cards it’s still a great option when you are getting your lunch to just tap your card on the reader and your done. I can’t wait for Google Wallet to launch in the UK because with this you have the added security of having to enter your pin on your phone before touching your phone and also you wont be able to have your card details pulled from the phone when its in your pocket unlike you could do if you just had a Barclays PayTag stuck on there

This technology is big business in some parts off the world but for some reason the UK seem to lag behind on this, I’m thinking the Olympics is going to be a great opportunity for vendors to use NFC payment options for people wanting to get snacks in a hurry this sort of thing would be perfect but widespread adoption is still a long way off, maybe if the next iPhone has NFC capabilities then it will give NFC a bit of a bump in the right direction.

Got any questions about NFC? how do you use NFC? Do you have any cool ideas for how to use NFC? If the answer is yes to any of these questions pop on over to our forum to discuss it further.



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Comments (2)

  1. Craig
  2. Rob