What is NFC?

NFC stands for “Near Field Communication”. As the name implies, NFC is a technology that enables short range communication between devices. An NFC device can be active with its own power source, like a cellphone, or passive (unpowered), like a NFC tag, with a chip embedded in an object like a sticker, wristband, ring, nails, cards and more.

Affordable, widely available technology

NFC technology is used widely in payment technology, for instance tapping your credit card or phone on a payment terminal, or in smart posters that you can tap with your phone to launch a web page on your phone’s browser. You may have encountered it in access control, often tapping an nfc card or plastic tag on a sensor to open doors and gates. NFC is closely related to RFID technology, which you have probably seen in action as RFID tags you attach to your ankle in a running/cycling race that record your times as you pass over a mat (the RFID reader).

Although RFID is a mature technology that is widely used in asset tracking and other business applications, specialist readers are required to program and read RFID tags. The real promise of NFC is that many of today’s smartphones include NFC technology that can read and write NFC tags. This means that there are already hundreds of millions of devices in the hands of people that are ready to interact via NFC, opening up a myriad of possibilities. Also the range of NFC tags available is increasing and they are becoming more affordable, opening up opportunities to implement applications with large volumes of tags quite affordably. As more and more organisations see the benefit of NFC, the price of NFC tags is set to drop further.

What data can be stored on an NFC tag?

Type Example
Website URL Create shelf tags that a customer can tap to load more info about a product
Wi-Fi Network Visitors can tap an NFC tag with their phone to connect to your wifi network
Bluetooth Connection Tap to connect your phone to another bluetooth device
Contact Details Tap to save contact details to your phone
Application Tap to launch an application on your phone or download (Android only)
Your Own App Develop your own app to read tag data and trigger actions – e.g. tap shelf tags to add products to a wishlist/electronic cart

Have a look at the video below which gives a nice summary of possible uses of NFC in a retail environment.

Android vs iOS/iPhone – An Important Distinction

Whereas the first NFC enabled Android devices appeared in or around 2010, NFC capability has only been enabled on iPhones and other iOS devices very recently, and in a limited way. Whereas the iPhone 6 has a NFC module in it, this was only enabled for Apple Pay and not available to 3rd party applications (i.e. pretty much everything else). In Q3 2017 with the release of iOS 11, Apple have finally opened up the NFC capability on iPhone 7, iPhone 8 and iPhone X to 3rd party developers, but in a limited way that makes it work quite differently to Android.

  • You can’t write to tags on an iPhone
  • You can’t launch an app by tapping a tag with an iPhone
  • You must have an NFC enabled app open on your iPhone and initiate a scan of a tag with a button press or similar user action to get it to read a tag (try this iPhone NFC app to get started)

Apple cites usability issues for their decision to implement NFC on the iPhone in this way. We hope that  by the time iOS 12 arrives they will have overcome these issues and make the experience more Android-like. Nevertheless, with the enabling of NFC on the iPhone the adoption of NFC for business and consumer applications is set to skyrocket.

Hopefully this gives you a bit of introduction to the potential of NFC. We’ll continue adding useful info, case studies and news to the Taggable website, so if you’d like to follow us, sign up for the newsletter below.

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