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It’s more than the wallet-killer: Everything you need to know about NFC

NFC has finally gone mainstream. The number of tablets and smartphones with NFC technology is growing fast, but so are the questions surrounding it. You’ve probably heard about Apple Pay, the digital wallet for the iPhone 6 that is making its way into hundreds of thousands of stores. But you may not know what NFC is, the uses for it, or why we should actually care.

Related: Everything you need to know about Apple Pay

The fact is, NFC is more than a wallet-replacement. There’s nearly endless potential when NFC chips are involved. This guide to NFC chips will help answer your NFC related questions.

What is NFC?

NFC stands for Near-Field Communication and allows phones, tablets, and laptops to share data with other NFC-equipped devices. The technology evolved from radio-frequency identification (RFID) tech. RFID is behind those security scan cards that get you into the office everyday or bypass that tollbooth on your morning commute.

NFC is very much like RFID, but NFC is limited to communication within four inches. Most people consider NFC’s small radius a major security benefit and it’s one of the reasons that NFC is taking off as a secure alternative to credit cards. But the technology can be used for more than making purchases at Bloomingdales. NFC can transfer data like videos, contact information, and photos between two NFC enabled devices.

How does NFC work?

Unlike Bluetooth, NFC doesn’t require any kind of manual pairing or device discovery to transfer data. With NFC, a connection is automatically started when another NFC device enters into that four-inch range. Once in range, the two devices instantaneously communicate and send prompts to the user. There’s huge potential with NFC. Listed below are three major ways NFC can facilitate communication between two devices.

Digital Wallet: Placing your handset within 4 inches of the Pay Pad will prompt your wallet or passbook and then ask you to confirm payment. With Apple Pay this means placing your finger on the home button.

Sharing between Android devices: When two enabled NFC devices are in range, a prompt will appear asking if you’d like to “Beam” whatever content (videos, contact information, or photos) is on-screen to the other Android device.

NFC Chips: These “taps” can be programmed with Tasker to perform certain tasks when scanned. For instance, you can put one on your desk and with a quick scan on the tap, you can set your phone to vibrate, disable GPS, or enable only work-related notifications, among other features.

Which devices have NFC

The list of NFC equipped devices is growing. NFC world has assembled a list of NFC enabled phones.

Apple Watch, iPhone 6 and 6 Plus, iPad Air 2

Apple Pay w/ Apple Watch

NFC is a new addition in the Apple world. Unfortunately, Apple’s new fleet of NFC-equipped devices will be only be able to make purchases. The ability to share data with a simple scan isn’t available.

The NFC chip is included in the iPad Air 2, but the Apple website states that the device won’t work with Pay Pads. Many banks and even some retailers will be Apple Pay-ready by 2015.

Related: Apple restricts NFC to payments only

Every device running on Android 4.0 or later

Android "touch to beam"Android Beam, the native feature for all devices running on Android 4.0 or later, allows the exchange of pretty much any kind of info, including YouTube videos, webpages, or contact information. It also allows Android users to take advantage of Google Wallet, which has been around since 2011.

Android beam can be enabled through your Phone’s settings > Wireless networks > More > Activate Beam. This path will now be able to utilize beam by placing their phone next to another NFC enabled device for several seconds. A prompt should automatically appear asking if you’d like to beam to another phone or device.

Windows Phones

Lots of Windows devices are NFC-equipped. NFC world has all of them.

What else can NFC do?

QX 10 Lens 2

Apple Pay, Google Wallet, and other digital wallets are just the beginning of NFC. Paying from your smartphone is just the beginning. Many tech accessories take advantage of this feature, including the Sony QX lens which can snap pics and video and send them to your photo library via NFC.

The Future of NFC

xNT Implant

xNT Implant

The era of NFC is just beginning. Expect to see NFC technology in more places. Wearable tech is an obvious starting point. NFC has been embeded in jewelry that could be used to access private data. Some manufactures are making temporary tattoos with embedded NFC chips that’ll unlock your phone. Creepier still is the xNT implant, a $99 kit that provides everything you need (including a syringe) to implant an NFC chip into your body.

Several major cities, including San Francisco, now offer payment options through parking meters. Cities like London and Manchester will send you a humorous call from a historical figure when you scan the NFC tab of the corresponding statue. You can purchase NFC tags that’ll allow users to preform tasks like enable Wi-Fi, or set phone settings, in a matter of seconds.