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San Diego's Compass Card

San Diego’s Compass Card

NFC, or Near Field Communications is yet another wireless option available today. Why on earth would we need another one you say? Well, NFC has actually been around for a while – whenever you use a badge that you tap against a reader, that’s NFC at work. The unique thing about this technology is that one end of the communication does not need power – for e.g. the company badge that gets you into the building.

Until recently, that’s about as exciting as NFC got – badges, transit cards, that sort of thing. Information flowed in one direction – you told the Transit Authority/Big Company that you were entering or leaving. Not super thrilling…

NFC Flipped

But new cellphones are showing up with NFC readers embedded in them, which not only flips the technology around, it allows two-way communication. Now, you can request and use the information instead of the other way around. You could tap an NFC tag outside a restaurant to go straight to the Yelp page for it, or check-in at Facebook, or perhaps tap a movie poster for the Rotten Tomatoes review.

A 2010 UbiComp paper from Hardy, Rukzio et al. details allowing users to create, program and use their own tags. This would allow them to, say, tap their phone against their office door on entering and update their Facebook status with “I’m at the office”. Personally, I would immediately block this person from my facebook feed, but you can see how it might be used with a bit more finesse. Perhaps your IM status could be updated instead. Or it could send a quick text to someone specific, notify your significant other that you are heading home, please get the beers chilled.

Long Time No See, 2D Barcodes?

Better than 2D barcodes?

Better than 2D barcodes?

Basically, small, repetitive tasks that involve cellphone technology can be automated into a simple tap. Every time I leave for home, I pull up google maps on my phone to choose the best route. This annoying series of steps could be replaced with just a tappity-tap straight to the map. (Yes, I really did want to say mappity-map).

Okay, you’re probably asking, how is this any different than those 2D barcodes? If you’ve ever used 2D barcodes, you’ll remember that you need to navigate to your barcode app, and then really hold the camera steady and parallel. It’s certainly not as simple a gesture as a tap. This is extremely important to the end-user experience because really, who wants to replace one tedious task with another? As long as phone manufacturers make it simple enough to communicate with NFC, this could really be as easy as a tap. Think about the difficult and dangerous phone manipulations you could avoid while driving.

NFC and beyond

JBL PowerUp wireless charging speaker for Nokia

JBL PowerUp

These small innovations can be fun and limit tedious tasks, but NFC will enable some interesting new applications as well. For one, mobile payment will become a reality as users can tap their phones much as they have been doing with RFID credit cards for a while now.

Harman, the parent company of JBL, has partnered with beleaguered Nokia to design these speakers that allow the user to start streaming music from their phone just by tapping their phone against the device. In addition, the speakers use the Qi wireless charging platform to then charge the phone. Such a symbiotic relationship!

A similar product, the Nokia Play 360, is available for NFC enabled Galaxy Nexus today.

Do you have any great ideas for NFC? Let us know in the comments!

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