Have you ever wondered what makes tap-and-go payment services like Apple Pay and Google Wallet work? Although it seems somewhat magical, it’s really just a method of wireless data transfer that detects and enables technology in devices near each other to communicate without the need for an internet connection. Called Near-Field Communication (NFC), it is a new technology that is not yet available in all electronic devices, but is likely to replace QR codes and other forms of technology down the line. NFC technology uses a tiny microchip to send a signal directly to your mobile device.
How does NFC work?
The technology involved is relatively simple. It evolved from radio frequency identification (RFID) technology, and the NFC chip operates as one part of a wireless link. Once it’s activated by another chip, small amounts of data transfer between the two devices.
NFC is easy and power efficient.
No pairing code is necessary to link up and because it uses chips that run on very low amounts of power, it’s much more power-efficient than other wireless communication types.
How can I use NFC?
At its simplest, NFC identifies us by our enabled credit cards and devices (and by extension, our bank accounts and other personal info). That said, NFC chips inside credit cards for contactless payments is nothing new but a more recent, and admittedly more enticing, use for NFC is with your smartphone or other electronic device that can digitize your entire wallet.
Virtually every mobile OS maker has its own apps that offer unique NFC functionality. Android users have the widest variety to choose from. United States users can nab Google Wallet, which accesses funds for contactless payments. Samsung Pay, which operates similarly, is on the way for Samsung phone users in the U.S. and Korea this summer. Apple’s iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus received NFC functionality, albeit with limited use so far, only for Apple Pay. Lastly, those who prefer Microsoft’s Windows Phone will be able to use Microsoft Payments when it is released. Looking toward the future, it’s possible that NFC chips could be used to replace every card in your wallet. That means the unique info on your frequent shopper loyalty cards, library card, business cards, etc. could be contained and transmitted simply via NFC.
Easy file transfer
Information stored on your phone—including photos, videos, documents, music, and personal contact information—can also be transferred easily using NFC-based apps such as Android’s FileBeam.
Using Beam, you will no longer need to manually enter another person’s contact information. Here, by tapping two NFC-enabled smartphones together, you can exchange digital data with anyone. Beam allows you to use NFC to exchange data not only with Android devices but also with devices running other operating systems.
NFC enables you to automatically connect your phone to NFC-enabled Bluetooth speakers so that you can play music from your phone simply by tapping your phone to it. You can also tap and connect your NFC-capable smartphone to a hub that plugs into your home audio system.
Using NFC tags
Many people are likely to find user-programmable plastic or paper NFC tags to be NFC’s most useful application. The tags can contain either information (such as your business card info) or instructions to perform actions (launching apps, changing your ringtone, setting alarms, turning GPS on or off, etc.) and even action sequences. When you tap your phone against one of the tags, the actions are carried out on your phone.The tags are small, inexpensive, and can be carried on your keychain. One convenient use for an information-only tag is storing the access information for your home or business Wi-Fi network to make it easy for others to join. Stick the tag on a wall or some other convenient spot, and a visitor with an app like WifiTap can touch the tag with their NFC-enabled phone and automatically connect to your network.
To summarize, while NFC’s uses will certainly expand in the future, it can currently be used with apps like FileBeam for information transfer. It can also, with just a bit more effort, save you lots of time and energy by automating repetitive tasks.