Smartphones like the Samsung Galaxy S3 are equipped with NFC. NFC stands for Near Field Communication and is the term given to the transfer of data over very short distances, typically between 3 and 18mm, though potentially up to 10cm! The uses of NFC are proving not only popular, but useful too, with the ability for quick file transfer and payment transactions, it offers a whole host of useful services. In this article, we discuss ways in which NFC technology can be useful to you, and some cool things that you can do with it. We strongly believe that NFC is the future of fast file transfers and NFC payments with smartphones will soon become the standard way of doing things. You thought cash was being replaces by cards? Well I think we will soon see NFC-enabled phones replacing cards!
In the Galaxy S3, the NFC antenna is situated within the battery. NFC can only be transmitted over a short distance so having it on the outside battery ensures that it is as close to the outside as possible. Also, and thanks to Samsung Geeks user “Ruedi” for pointing this out to us, the materials used in the battery can block the NFC antenna so it needs to be on the outer side. Other options to have the NFC technology is in the casing of the device.
What is the Secure Element in NFC?
A part of the NFC system called the Secure Element may also be embedded into the phone’s hardware, within an external SD card or within the operator’s SIM card. The secure element is a secure area of memory which stores important and personal information used in NFC, such as payment services, ticketing or any other sort of authorised access. A secure element is seperate from the NFC antenna, and can only be accessed by an App which has been given prior authorisation by the manufacturer. This ensures that unauthorised parties/malicious apps cannot steal your money and make payments under your name, or gain access to things which they should not be able to.
NFC Tags for Smartphones
NFC Tags allow you to interact with objects, and even set interactions you want to associate with them in a whole new way. Until recently, we’ve been governed by QR codes, which only contain very basic information, such as contact details or a hyperlink to a website. With NFC tags, we code associate complicated tasks and even system tasks into them. For example, we would program an NFC Tag to set instruct the phone to update a Facebook or Twitter status a specific way, or to open Google Maps and navigate home. We could have a tag on our desk to turn on and connect to our work WiFi network whilst simultaneously putting the phone on silent and and opening our work calendar.
You can use an App like NFC ReTAG to accomplish this. The App work on the basis that every NFC enabled object, or tag has its own unique identification code which a phone can read, even if it cannot access the data on there. The App uses recognises this unique code, and then carries out instructions on your phone which are associated with this unique identification. Check out the video above of SamsungGeek Mike demonstrating how to do this.
What we like about this, is that you don’t need to spend money on expensive(ish) NFC tags such as the Samsung programmable (and well named) “TecTiles”. Unlike the NFC ReTAG App, the instructions for the phone are stored on the NFC chip, and then interpreted by the device
Hyperlinking and Fast File Transfer
To initiate an NFC transfer on Smartphones, all you need to do is put the back of the phones together at which point they will buzz to let you know a connection has been made. After this, you simply press once on the screen of the phone you are transferring from and voila – information sent! This is so much faster than setting your device to be visible over bluetooth, waiting for it to search for nearby bluetooth devices and going through a pairing process. With NFC, “authenticity” and security come with the proximity of another device to your own, so no need to set up access PINs and whatnot… thus the whole process is sped up considerably.
NFC for ICS: “Android Beam”
With the Galaxy Nexus and Ice Cream Sandwich (Android version 4.0) came Android Beam. Originally all you were able to was share simple information such as contacts and a hyperlink to Google Play or a website.
NFC for Samsung: “S-Beam”
6 months or so later, Samsung pushed “S-Beam” with the launch of the Galaxy S3, which uses NFC to set up a WiFi-Direct link between two devices and transfer any file across at high speeds. This is particularly good for transferring large files such as videos, as Bluetooth really doesn’t do a good enough job!
As the Galaxy S3 runs on Ice Cream Sandwich (Android version 4.0) it also has Android Beam, so is compatible with other NFC-enabled Android devices. At the time of writing, S-Beam only works between two Galaxy S3s.
NFC for JellyBean: “Android Beam [updated]”
The announcement of an updated Android Beam for Jelly Bean (Android version 4.1) at Google I/O in June 2012 was met with little applause because it essentially does the same thing as S-Beam, which in turn was what everyone expected Android Beam to be able to do in the first place! One additional feature of the new Android Beam is the ability to link up to bluetooth (and NFC) enabled entertainment systems to set up the bluetooth pairing. As far as we are aware, there aren’t any NFC+bluetooth enabled entertainment systems (apart from their own Nexus Q)… so this is kind of pointless. Future proof though – that’s always good!
Payments with NFC
NFC payments mean that you can use a debit card to interact with a cashpoint or paypoint wirelessly, or even more impressively, you can use an App like Google Wallet or VISA Paywave. We are seeing cash being used less and less, as it’s somewhat less risky if you drop you debit card (you can get a new one!) than if you drop a £50 note! And now it seem that NFC on a smartphone will be even more secure: it’s essentially a way to lock your debit card – and with the security features on a Smartphone, this ought to be secure (though let’s see…).
Already around the world you are able to make payments via NFC. In selected stores you are able to interact with an NFC enabled pay-point and some places in the world are rolling out NFC cash-machines!
Advertising and Information with NFC
NFC also has a clear use-case in advertising and information points. Currently QR Codes are fulfilling this role, though this technology requires a user to spend some time opening a specific App and photographing the code before being taken to a single hyperlink which is a little undynamic. NFC enables users to interact with far richer content, such as downloading videos or audio tracks from an advertisement directly over Android Beam (Jellybean version) or S Beam, doing away with the need for an active internet connection.
In Sydney tourist information is accessible by both QR and NFC codes – presenting users with augmented information about their surroundings.
We could also see NFC technology being used in a similar way to QR codes are in this very clever idea currently expanding in the technologically advanced Korea:
… or perhaps to quickly get more information about a product we might want to buy, such as quick and easy access to health-information such as calories and fat content in food, or recipe ideas!
Is NFC the future?
NFC isn’t so much the future as the present. It speeds up transaction time, file transfer time and the time it takes to get information. NFC technology is already being used all around us: in the London transportation system, “Oyster Cards” are already widely used, and they are a form of NFC card; the London 2012 Olympic Games are set to see the implementation of VISA Paywave in the UK, allowing for mobile phone payments to be made and shortly afterwards an NFC infrastructure will spring up around us and around the developed world.
What do you think? Have you found any cool uses for NFC? Let us know in the comments below, we’d love to hear from you!