The Uses of Near Field Communication (NFC)

By Robert R. Sabella

You might be surprised to learn that you already use NFC and simply don’t know it. NFC appears all over the place. Here’s a quick summary of some of the most interesting uses.

Interacting with devices using simpler methods

Imagine being able to interact with any device just by tapping it with an NFC-enabled device such as your smartphone. For example, you tap your portable speakers, and the music currently playing on your smartphone starts playing out of the speakers instead. You get the full effect of those high-quality speakers you purchased, but with the music that you like from your smartphone.

Bluetooth pairing of devices is normally a painful process when done manually. NFC makes the pairing possible with a single tap. Even though the music still relies on Bluetooth to get from the device to the speakers, the pairing is done with NFC.

The same concepts hold true with your television. A single tap is enough to make a connection with your smartphone so that you can see the pictures or video currently displayed on the smartphone, but at television size and resolution. Sony and other companies are currently engaged in making NFC connectivity happen in all sorts of ways. You can read about some of the latest Sony offerings.

Buying products with ease

You walk up to the cash register with a cartful of goods you want to buy. Whether the cash register is actually manned by someone is unimportant (some stores are now experimenting with self-serve checkouts that really do save the store money and make the shopping experience much faster for most people). The goods are swiped across the scanner to get prices.

When you have a coupon for an item, you simply tap your phone to add it to the register. You can be sure that the coupon actually reduces your cost because you can see the reduction immediately after you tap the phone. When it comes time to pay for the goods, another tap of your smartphone is all you need to pay for them using your credit or debit card. No more paper exchanging hands, and the level of convenience is amazing.

Even though all these tasks can be performed with other technologies, the important issue is how NFC handles security. When using NFC, the cards, fobs, phones, stickers, watches, and other NFC-enabled devices all talk to the Point of Sale (POS) terminal used for payment in the exact same way using the exact same security.

Remember that not every NFC transaction is completely secure. MIFARE transit fares and NFC payment are secure because the application supplies the required security. However, reading a tag isn’t inherently secure, except for the natural level of security that NFC provides (such as a short reading distance).

Launching a marketing campaign

Getting people to buy your product is an essential part of any business venture. After all, if no one buys your product, you’ll quickly be out of business. The problem is making your product stand out from all the other products out there.

Of course, you could pay someone to ride in one of those cheesy trucks and blare out over a sound system, “Buy my product!” but that strategy is bound to fail. A better option is to provide people with information sources they can interact with, such as signs and kiosks. When people can enter a store, see the big poster with your product on it, and touch their smartphones to it to learn more, you gain a significant advantage over your competition that’s relying on signs alone.

For a merchant, the NFC advantage is that full interactive communication with your customer, including tracking and accountability, can be initiated with a simple, digital gesture that’s as natural as pointing at a product or display.

This means that you can determine how many people have checked out your ad and know which locations are better suited to selling your product. Also, you can determine how people interacted with your ad so that you know which sales pitches work better. And you can learn which ads converted to sales. Therefore, it’s no longer a matter of putting up a sign and hoping it sells something for you. Using NFC means that you can determine precisely how a marketing campaign is progressing and make changes as needed to ensure success.

Building your personal network quickly and easily

Networking is essential in today’s world. Look at the emergence of online sites such as LinkedIn. Some people get most or even all their work based on contacts they make with these kinds of sites. Having a list of the right people at your fingertips makes you more efficient and better able to react to changing conditions. In short, you need connections today to be a success in business. With this in mind, NFC helps you create a personal network in two important ways.

Exchanging business cards

One reason to use NFC is to make interacting with people easier. Of course, you have the option to exchange information simply by tapping smartphones. Information can include more than just name, address, and telephone number. You can exchange all sorts of information, including media of any sort that your smartphone can handle.

Exchanging other contact information

Thinking outside the box is important when exchanging information with someone else. For example, you might decide to create a presentation that fits on a smartphone. Tapping your phone with that of a potential client creates the connection that transfers the presentation and lets the client play it later at her leisure. No longer do you have to rely on a quick sales pitch to do all the work for you. Now you can concentrate on gaining the other person’s interest and then make the sales pitch later using a full multimedia presentation through which you can convey all the facts.

Creating ad-hoc wireless connections

In times past, you often needed to jump through hoops to connect two devices in a secure manner. You can use the security that NFC provides for tasks such as banking because it carries only a low risk of eavesdropping and offers no practical way for an outsider to influence the content of your NFC transmissions (even if he’s standing right there with you). NFC offers you the simplicity of a wireless connection, but its limited range offers added physical security not available to other forms of wireless communication. With this in mind, just about anything you can do with a wired connection, you can also do with NFC. However, unlike a wired connection, you don’t have to do anything special to accomplish the task — simply bring the NFC device close to a tag or other device.

Having fun with games

Interestingly enough, you can even use NFC to enhance the gaming experience. For example, Skylanders, a toys-to-life game series published by Activision, integrates interactive figurines that you use to play a game. To use a figurine, you place it on the Portal of Power, which has an NFC reader in it, to register it. The Portal of Power reads the figurine’s NFC tag to determine the characteristics that the corresponding character has. These are console games that use the gaming console for connectivity so that you can interact with other players. Theoretically, the gaming console you use doesn’t matter, and you can even connect the Portal of Power to your PC.

This game use of NFC is interesting because all the information about your character resides in the figurine. Using NFC means that your figurine contains the intelligence that you can rely on to hold information about your character between sessions.