December 3, 2013

NFC - Waving it's way into the Future of Automation and Connectivity

If future is the way to go, sooner or later, you could well be making a tip at your favorite restaurant through your smartphone ! Want to know how? Yes, cash is slowly sliding into a slow death. With ever growing gadgets around us utilizing the Internet more and more, supported by popularity of e-commerce sites like ebay and Flipkart, decline of currency note seems evident.

So what technology is likely to become a de-facto standard of payments at restaurants, retails and transport and replace traditional cards?


Yes Near Field Communication. It's probably there on your smartphone right now, but it is likely that you haven't used it even once. Well, payments through NFC is already popular in the western world, India is not too far away, when it becomes a standard. Right now, NFC feature on smartphones comes at a price premium, that perhaps is the reason, why it is not gaining popularity or is it some security issue? Well traditional credit/debit cards don't either have a great advantage when it comes to security (Read recent cases of Card Frauds).

When people hear of NFC, they think just "Payments".

But it has got other endless possibilities. Already there are many devices that come embedded with NFC, like bluetooth speakers, music systems, refrigerators, cars etc.

So how does NFC work?

In short it is a radio communication system between two devices. 

Two types of communication are possible; 

1. A NFC phone may interact with another NFC phone or device.
2. NFC phone may talk with a "NFC tag" to perform a task.

We could say, NFC is a glorified version of RFID. Yeah, that same RFID which is embedded in your company ID card. RFID (radio Frequency Identity device) is primarily used for access control and tracking of shipments. Apply the principle of RFID onto a smartphone, you get NFC. NFC takes advantage of the intelligence of your smartphone  and internet connectivity, add to that, the scanner (i.e NFC phone) is mobile, unlike common RFID scanners that remain immovable.

The mobility factor itself alone expands NFC possibilities.

You can use it to put your phone into silent mode as soon as you reach your desk. A tap to a NFC tag is all that is required. The NFC tag can be written with a task, which basically is some bytes of data.

Radio waves from the smartphone momentarily powers the NFC chip within the tag, when brought in close proximity (less than 5 cm). Next then the data is read from the tiny chip. A task is performed, based on the pre-programmed data.

NFC tags are available at cheap prices in India also. These are available as adhesive labels tags. It can stick on surfaces like your devices, doors, cars etc. Lets take, if you want to play your favorite music as soon as you place your phone on the music player or home theater or bluetooth speaker, it can be done. Just stick your programmed NFC tag on the target device and when your smartphone is placed over it, the song is streamed over WiFi to the home theater, and starts playing. Here a another networking technology called DLNA comes into play.

Else if you want to buy unenclosed NFC tag chips that may be later embedded in a custom enclosure of your choice, you can buy from here. 

Another interesting example which some geeks have tried is to turn on personal computer as soon as they reach home. They programmed a NFC tag in such a way that, when the phone comes in contact, an android app called WoL sends "magic packets" to the PC through the home network using WiFi. The Wake-on-LAN enabled PC boots up in response to those packets, thus saving some time.

Clearly "time saving" is a major advantage of NFC applications. It makes our Life simple by automating random low key tasks and letting us concentrate more on other important tasks.

Surely as the world grows more sophisticated and connected, simple yet powerful applications like NFC can define our future in Techno-social arena.

At the end, there is no end to the possibilities of NFC. You can come up with a new task that you wanted to automate badly and use NFC to do it.

So if you have an exclusive and interesting idea on implementing NFC on smartphones, do post it in the comments.

Read more about NFC vs QR code here.

Get a NFC enabled gadget this Christmas and surprise everyone with a new automated task !

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