Tapping away with NFC

NFC: a word you’ve probably heard before, and something you’ll be hearing a lot more, especially now that Apple has opted not to support it.

So what is NFC? NFC stands for ‘Near Field Communication’ – put simply, NFC is a new wireless technology that enables data transmission between two objects when they are brought within a few inches of each other.

For smartphones, this means they can exchange data with other NFC enabled devices or read information from smart tags embedded in posters, stickers and other products.

Many phones (and other devices) are starting to ship with NFC enabled; most Android phones and Windows 8 tablets are shipping with it.

In fact, you’re probably already using NFC already and you wouldn’t even know. Many public transport systems that use contactless cards are based on NFC.

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Your credit/debit MasterCard, Visa or American Express card may already be NFC enabled too. If your card shows PayPass, payWave or ExpressPay, you’ve been using NFC there too.


If you have a phone with NFC enabled, you can try rubbing your phone over your cards to see if they’re recognised. Great Android apps for interrogating NFC cards I’ve found, is NFC TagInfo by NXP. There’s another TagInfo app worth playing with too. Just open the app, and tap your card to the back of the phone.

One other area where NFC has been pushed as an ideal solution is advertising. You’re probably familiar with the QR code; funny looking barcodes that can hold a website, SMS, contact card or just text. NFC is much less ‘frictionless’; instead of having to unlock your phone, open the barcode reader app, point and focus to scan… you just tap your phone against an NFC tag and you’re done. You don’t even have to have an app installed in the first place – NFC tag reading is baked right into the OS.

Around Sydney, NFC tags are beginning to make an appearance around the place. Recently, MOG billboards had NFC tags embedded. Around shopping centres, eye billboards are also starting to have NFC tags on them. Alongside a QR code, and phone number to text for those without NFC enabled handsets.

Another good example of this is for tourist tours; TapIt have added NFC tags to information signs around The Rocks – a tap brings up a website with more information. No typing or scanning to be done!

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David Jones have also used NFC in their advertising recently


NFC, sadly is another chicken and egg scenario. NFC tags aren’t as widespread as they could be, because there aren’t enough devices out there that support NFC. But there aren’t many devices that support it, as there aren’t many tags/devices out there to use it with.

Many expected Apple to support NFC in the iPhone 5, and there was a great collective sigh when it was revealed it was absent. Apple’s senior VP, Phil Schiller said when asked about NFC;

It’s not clear that NFC is the solution to any current problem, Schiller said. “Passbook does the kinds of things customers need today.”

There’s also a lot to sort out when it comes to NFC being used for mobile payments. Device manufacturers, software developers and banks must all come to an agreement when it comes to direct access to the hardware – this is what’s holding back adoption of things like Google Wallet, and why banks such as Commonwealth Bank haven’t enabled NFC payments on Android devices even if they support NFC.

Nevertheless, NFC is quite cool and I’m looking forward to what happens next in this space.

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