Have you ever wondered what makes tap-and-go services like Apple Pay, Google Wallet and Amiibo work? As much as it seems like pure magic, it isn't.
So what is NFC technology exactly? Simply put, it's a method of wireless data transfer that detects and then enables technology in close proximity to communicate without the need for an internet connection. It's easy, fast and works automagically.
How does NFC Technology work?
The tech involved is deceptively simple. Evolved from radio frequency identification (RFID) tech, an NFC chip operates as one part of a wireless link. Once it's activated by another chip, small amounts of data between the two devices can be transferred when held a few centimeters from each other.
No pairing code is necessary to link up and because it uses chips that run on very low amounts of power (or passively, using even less), it's much more power-efficient than other wireless communication types.
At its core, NFC works to identify us by our enabled cards and devices (and by extension, our bank accounts and other personal info.)
NFC, or near-field communication, is an easy and intuitive technology that allows you to use your mobile phone for special purposes. An NFC tag can share and link to information such as web pages, social media and all other sorts of other information generally. Other areas where NFC is starting to evolve into are making payments, opening doors secured with contactless locks, logging on to computers and many more. All of these actions have something in common, that is they invoke an action based on you placing your phone (or any other NFC device) near (the N in NFC) the thing you want to read or interact with.
NFC Technology is bridging the gap between both the physical and virtual worlds. By bringing two devices near each other, there is a virtual reaction. Bluetooth and WiFi do not have this ease in set up. So the key feature of NFC is: It is automatic! There is no need to launch an application! ...it just works!
NFC uses passive targets (with no batteries!) and random devices that are not powered (so called tags or stickers, sometimes aka transponders or labels) – all of which you can buy on this site as part of the Identiv offering. NFC Tags are essentially “targets” that “want” to be touched by NFC devices like mobile phones. These Tags can contain information per se or point (i.e. direct) you to information, applications or services.
How can I use NFC right now?
NFC chips stocked inside credit cards for contactless payments is nothing new. But a more recent and admittedly more enticing use case for NFC is with your smartphone, which can digitize your entire wallet.
Virtually every mobile OS maker has their own apps that offer unique NFC functionality. Android users have the widest variety to choose from. First off, US users can nab Google Wallet, which accesses your funds for contactless payments. Samsung Pay, which operates similarly, is on the way for Samsung phone users in US and Korea this Summer.
However, a feature that all Android owners have been able to enjoy is called Android Beam. It was implemented in Ice Cream Sandwich 4.0 as a nifty, simple process that allows for the transfer of photos, contacts and directions that works by holding two phones together.
Apple's iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus received NFC functionality, albeit with limited use so far, only for Apple Pay. It's a lot like Google Wallet, in that it's an app which gives users the ability to pay for goods and services at participating retailers. Lastly, those who prefer Microsoft's Windows Phone will be able to use Microsoft Payments when it launches likely around the launch of Windows 10.
Whichever device you have, it's likely that a local supermarket, train station, taxi or coffee shop supports contactless payments via your phone's NFC chip. Go try it out! Simply hold it close to a contactless payment terminal and instantly, like swiping a credit card, the payment will complete.
Looking toward the future, it's possible that NFC chips could be used to replace every card in your wallet. That means the unique info on your frequent shopper loyalty cards, library card, business cards and the like could be contained and transmitted simply via NFC.
The potential for NFC stretches further than commerce. Passive NFC 'tags' are being built into posters and informational kiosks to transmit additional information similar to how scanning a QR code can trigger launching a web address, offering a discount coupon, or a map to download on your smartphone.
A clever use of an NFC tag can be found integrated into Google's do-it-yourself VR kits, Cardboard. Mounting your NFC-capable smartphone into the headset triggers the nearby tag to automatically download or launch the app.
Strangely enough, even video games and action figures are even seeing an injection of the wireless technology. Nintendo's Amiibo, Skylanders and Disney Infinity are collectible toys at heart, but under the hood, the NFC tech offers new functionality not previously seen in video games.
Waving these figurines over gaming consoles or accessories enables players to "check-in" to the game brings them to life, so to speak, which activates some unique features.
In Skylanders, these figurines can be linked up to the game to enrich the experience with these new characters to play with. Disney Infinity and Amiibo toys yield similar rewards to players and collectors. The NFC chips inside are capable enough to store user data such as experience points, progression and customized settings.
Another practical use of NFC is with Bluetooth speakers and headphones. Many devices brandish the NFC logo, which means that by holding your smartphone to the NFC-enabled device, you'll be able to connect via Bluetooth much faster than pairing devices manually.
Interested in giving NFC a shot? First, you need to find out if your device is compatible with contactless payment terminals and passive NFC tags detailed above.
The good news? The list of compatible devices is staggering and growing with time. It's safe to say, if you've purchased a smartphone in the last year or two, you should be ready to go.
A few examples of recent NFC-equipped smartphones: Nexus 6, Sony Xperia Z3, iPhone 6, Samsung Galaxy Note 4, LG G3, HTC One M9.
You'll probably also be in good shape if you've bought a tablet recently. The Google Nexus 9, iPad Mini 3 and iPad Air 2 each have the capability out of the box.
Looking forward, NFC chips will also be in more smartwatches and fitness trackers. Apple is including NFC support in its Apple Watch so that users can pay for goodies using Apple Pay with a tap of the wrist.
On the Android side of things, Sony has also done the same with its Sony SmartWatch 3 wearable, which offers similar implementation using Android Wear, plus a few fun features, like tapping a phone to the watch to power it on.