One of the reasons I wanted to splash out on a new mobile was the emergence of NFC (Near Field Communications). Basically, it’s the (RFID) technology that has been inside your hotel key card, Oyster card and the likes for some time now. As well as ‘Android Beam’ which is basically killing off Bluetooth for data transfer, NFC opens up social tech in a big way.
For the first time ever (and for some time to come), certain Smartphone devices such as the ‘One X’ are equipped with NFC reading and writing capabilities. I’m pretty sure this means that QR codes are dead (if they were ever alive!). By the way, when I say ‘near field’, the phone has to be within a centimetre of a ‘standard’ tag for it to be detected.
The great thing about the tags is that they come in all difference guises and are almost completely flat. You can get stickers, keyfobs, wristbands, business cards – prices start at about 50p per tag when you buy in bulk. If you want to put NFC tags into posters, you’re going to need bigger tags which have a better detection range such as the 38mm NXP NTAG203 which come in at about the same price.
Think of the possibilities. You scan your phone on a poster and it automatically sends you to a website or a Google map. You scan your phone on a jar of pickles and it automatically connects to Facebook for a ‘like’. You scan your phone on a sign for a taxi and it automatically dials the number. You scan your phone on the train door and it sets the ringer volume to silent. You scan your phone on a business card and you get the VCard.
Firstly be warned, you will need Android 4.0.3 to run without any bugs! You can perform basic tag encoding (both reading/writing) with free apps such as NXT TagWriter. That’s fine if you want to add something simple such as a URL to a tag. The amount of data you can put on a tag depends on the tag type – the normal type is ‘2’. You’ll need a 1K tag for VCards.
You can configure the tags to become read-only (locked) but first have some fun putting different things on there. You don’t even need to go and buy tags to start enjoying their benefit. Just grab the NFC ReTag app and start experimenting with a defunct Oyster card!
However, if you’re swish then you’ll want to splash out on the £1.25 app called NFC Task Launcher which allows you to automate a sequence of tasks on your device (as long as the app is pre-loaded). I’ve coded a tag next to my bed to turn the phone off when I go to sleep.
Of course, the real reason the technology is in your phone is to do with tracking stuff and exchanging money. The reasons for getting your mobile phone nicked just keep stacking up. Let’s not forget big brother – it’s bad enough that you can’t remove the battery in modern phones (meaning that you can effectively be traced anywhere).
Finally, a word of warning. NFC has already hit the headlines for being prone to security breaches such as eavesdropping and ‘man in the middle’ attacks. In theory I just need to be near somebody and I can take their NFC data. The flaw in this type of contactless is not the air gap; it is the passive nature of the tags. It’s got me thinking – if I could broadcast a strong enough signal at 13.56 MHz I could create absolute chaos 😉