Be lazy with NFC Tags!

When I posted one of my new “toys” on Facebook a few days ago, I never imagined that so many people would be fascinated. Many were unaware of the existence of NFC nor had any idea how this technology can be used in our everyday life. As you guessed, this post is all about NFC, the tags and how to use them.

Introducing NFC

NFC1

Don’t worry. I won’t be quoting Wikipedia’s definition. I will just share bits of information which will give you an overall idea of NFC which stands for “Near Field Communication”. But if you still want to be technical or challenge me, the rest of the post is probably not made for you.

To be simple, Near Field Communication (NFC) is a technology which allows communication in-between two NFC-enabled devices through the transmission of radio waves. As the name suggest, the devices should be near to each other, usually a few centimeters. For instance if you have a smartphone / tablet  with NFC, you can transfer files, share music or contacts with any other NFC smartphone / tablet just by putting both devices close together or touching them.

In several countries, NFC is used for carrying out transactions, paying for your public transport tickets, in parking meters and much more. I’m sure that you were not aware that Mastercard Paypass and even Google Wallet use NFC! Similarly, several companies are now using NFC to develop other gadgets and more useful equipment, for example, door locks.

NFC Tags

NFC3

Available in different forms and shapes, NFC tags contains a tiny chip and an antenna made of copper or aluminium, all embedded in a tag or even in a sticker! The re-programmable chip can contain a tiny bit of data, usually a maximum of only 1 Kilobyte but despite this, NFC tags or stickers offer endless of possibilities to put this technology to use.

For example, that tiny NFC chip embedded in a cheap tag or sticker can contain

  • your business card,
  • your home WiFi details so that your friends can instantaneously connect to your network without even knowing your password
  • a link to your favorite store/restaurant’s web site along with a coupon code, enabling you to get discounts.
  • and, lastly, programmable actions, as explained further below.

The price of these NFC tags / stickers might vary depending on the type and storage capacity of the chip. For example, I purchased 10 of them at only $15, including shipping. That amounts to roughly about Rs 50 per tag. Finally, owners of Google Nexus devices should note down that their devices use a different type of tag.

NFC6

Without being too technical, the chip is powered by an electric current which is generated by the antenna when the latter receives magnetic waves from an emitting NFC device, for example, your smartphone.

And that’s one of the most interesting advantages of NFC as compared to bluetooth. With a very low power consumption, NFC can be perfect in many situations and secure too, since transmission between devices can occur only if they are a few centimeters apart.

A last point : NFC tags / stickers are re-programmable as long as someone does not set them as read only. If you don’t set your tag as read only (through a NFC application), anybody can overwrite your data on the chip. But once you set it to read-only, there’s no turning back. You won’t be able to change the data stored on it anymore.

I have my tag. Now what?

NFC4

Obviously, you need a smartphone with NFC too. Fortunately now, most new smartphones on the market now come with NFC. For example, the HTC One ( Read my review here) and other latest models of HTC, Blackberry, Samsung, Sony and Huawei.

Poor iPhone users. You need to wait for Apple to invent their own iNFC πŸ˜›

One important thing before proceeding : If you have a NFC-enabled phone, you should know the location of the NFC chip. Why? As mentioned before, the NFC devices need to be close together, so you absolutely need to know where you should place the other NFC device.

nfc location

You also need to enable NFC in your settings :

enable-nfc

In some smartphones, a “N” logo might appear on your notification bar, just like in my HTC One :

NFC5

Next, you need an application to write to those NFC tags / stickers. Plenty of them are available on Google Play and the most common one is probably “Trigger”, previously called “NFC Task Launcher”. The app is free to use but additional options are enabled if you purchase it. Don’t worry, the free version is probably good enough for most of us here.

Programming your NFC Tag / Sticker

nfc-configure

I know that the post is becoming to be long but as usual, I’m making sure that I’m sharing the maximum of things I know on this specific topic. After reading this post, you will probably not need to look for any additional information. You just need to buy your tag / sticker… And a NFC smartphone πŸ™‚

Sooooooooooooo, let’s start programming our chip. Don’t worry, you don’t need to be a programming expert: Just use your app and fortunately for us, our guest writer Tushal already wrote two articles about making your smartphone smarter through a very similar application called “Tasker”:

  1. An introduction to Tasker – Read here
  2. Triggering events using your location – Read here

Using a NFC tag on the door of your house

Tired of having to switch on your WiFi, lowering your ringer and notification volumes, turning off your bluetooth, setting off your battery saver mode and setting your screen brightness to low each time you reach home? And do the opposite each time you leave home? A NFC tag or sticker on your entrance door can automate everything.

Entering and leaving the house

Here are the different actions I configured for my home use. And as you will notice, my smartphone now greets me when I enter or leave the house. hehe!

NFC-Home-mode

And if you want to reverse those actions when you tap the NFC tag on leaving home, you can configure the following to execute by creating a “switch”, as shown in the screenshot to the right.

Once you have completed the configurations, you can now write to your tag or sticker by bringing it close to your NFC enabled smartphone :

NFC8

And this main screen on the “Trigger” app displays the whole set of actions configured on your smart phone / tablet:

nfc-summary

Note : If you don’t have NFC, you can still use “Tasker” to do those tasks depending on your GPS or cell-tower based locations or even, trigger everything when your smartphone automatically connects to your home WiFi, as explained by Tushal’s guest post.

Some examples to try

If you have a number of tags, you will probably want to use each one of them, isn’t it?

Here are some ideas:

In your car

If you read the post a few days back, you are probably tempted to install a bluetooth car kit. And in that case, the NFC tag can be even more useful. You can program it so that when you tap it on entering the car, it automatically switches on your bluetooth to connect to the car kit, put the phone in car mode, turn on your GPS navigation. And when you leave the car, just disable the bluetooth and set your smartphone back to the other settings.

In your office

NFC-work

At work, you can choose to put your phone on vibrate, turn off your mobile data connection and set your brightness to low. And when you leave your work desk, you can put back the volume, put your brightness to auto, turn on your data connection.

On your night desk

If you are among those normal people who hate being disturbed by the notification sounds, you can put the phone on silent or turn your WiFi off. As for the previous examples, you can configure your night desk NFC tag to do these automatically and when waking up in the morning (or whenever), just tap the tag again to set your phone’s notifications on or WiFi on.

A business card on a NFC tag?

With another free Android app called “NFC By Moo”, I was able to write my contact details on one of my NFC tags. Though I won’t be using it most probably, it can be useful in the future for similar uses. A bit like those QR Codes but unfortunately, nothing has become more popular than the bar codes!

Should you try NFC?

If you don’t have a NFC device yet, then probably it won’t make sense to buy a new smartphone just to use NFC. But if you already own or plan to buy a smartphone with NFC, it costs peanuts to buy a NFC tag or sticker. As an owner of a NFC smartphone, you are probably missing a whole set of ways to make your life easier, different, exciting and lazy.

Doesn’t this NFC earring make me look cool too? πŸ˜›

Thank you for reading the blog.

Keep tuned!

5 thoughts on “Be lazy with NFC Tags!

Add yours

  1. Yep, NFC is fun to play with. I’m currently developing NFC applications on Android at work. I’m also playing with a third party iPhone cover that provides NFC functionality. The manufacturer provides an SDK and it’s pretty straight forward.

    Apple doesn’t believe in NFC, but have instead gone with Bluetooth Low Energy with iBeacon. BLE has some advantages – longer range, no need for a scan gesture. The longer range allows for some applications that can’t be done using NFC. One example that keeps coming up is indoor navigation. Proximity triggers are also better for home automation compared to having to scan a tag. I used to get my computer to unlock itself simply by walking into the room. The computer would detect that my phone is within range and run whatever scripts I asked it to.

    It’s not inconceivable that in the near future you’d walk into a shop wearing your Google Glass, look at a rack of t-shirts, and Glass tells you that your size is unfortunately sold out – but you can order some online right there and then if you’d like. All without having to rifle through the rack.

    So, BLE has more potential applications than NFC. However, NFC does have one advantage: BLE devices need to be powered whereas NFC tags don’t need to be.

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: