“What did you just do?” asked the surprised cashier at my local Home Depot after I used my NFC-enabled smartphone to pay for my items. At first I just wanted to geek-out and try this new functionality included in my phone, but after using it for mobile payments a couple of times I started thinking about all the other applications that NFC technology can be used for.
Near Field Communications (NFC) is another way to transfer data wirelessly across devices. To be able to work, the devices have to be close to each other (less than 4 inches apart) not like Bluetooth where after pairing, the devices can be 20 or 30 meters away. The advantage over Bluetooth is that using NFC it takes under a second or two to pair and transfer the data where with Bluetooth the pairing along can take 15 to 20 seconds.
Currently, NFC is mostly used to transfer contacts, music, pictures and video from one capable phone to another; mobile payments is something that is just starting to take shape with players such as Google Wallet and the ISIS system which is a joint venture between the big wireless carriers and several handset manufacturers.
With these systems you add your credit card information at setup and then use your phone at your local store’s checkout to pay for your merchandise with a single tap of your phone (and a PIN number for security) or use it to store your rewards card information instead of carrying it around.
There are also smart tags that have a little bit of storage inside and can be programmed. You can program them so that with a single tap it can for example:
- Automatically open a browser at a company’s URL
- Set your alarm at a certain time
- Transfer your contact information
- Configure Wi-Fi for your guests
- Text your wife that you are on your way home when you get in your car
- Check you in Foursquare or Facebook when you are at your favorite restaurant
- Pay for your trolley, subway or bus ticket
- Pay at a vending machine
- Download product information when you are at the store
- Download a movie trailer when you tap it against a movie poster
- Purchase 2 tickets to the next showing of that same movie.
Tags are rewritable but can also be locked to prevent other people from hacking your tag.
I think this technology has a lot of potential and it’s just a matter of time before we start seeing it more widely used, currently there are very few applications and NFC-enabled phones but you can expect those numbers to increase, especially if apple decides to add NFC capabilities to the iPhone.
Another big issue that needs to be addressed is security and what happens if your phone gets lost or stolen; and how to prevent unauthorized use or hacking of your phone using a malicious tag.
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