NFC stands for Near Field Communication. Although the technology has been around for a while, it’s just starting to gain prominence in the smartphone market. Chances are that if you’ve heard of NFC before now, it was probably in reference to mobile payments. Through services like Google Wallet, you can tap your phone at a checkout in order to pay for goods or services. Here’s how Google Wallet works.
According to Juniper Research one in four mobile owners in the U.S. and Western Europe will be using NFC for mobile payments by 2017 and worldwide transactions will be worth $180 billion. It might prove to be a great technology for mobile payments, and we will likely see support roll out to more places in the coming months, but that is by no means all that NFC can do. Let’s take a look at some of the other possibilities.
Paperless ticketing is a great idea and it makes a lot of sense to enable smartphones to act as tickets. There are already various apps that allow you to buy tickets directly through your smartphone and scan your device to confirm at the venue. NFC could make the whole process that little bit smoother. You could buy tickets for the cinema, a concert, or a football game, and just tap your phone when you arrive. Forget about carrying a bus pass or a card for the subway – just tap your phone at an NFC terminal and away you go.
This is a great example of something that NFC-enabled phones can vastly improve. San Francisco is adopting NFC parking meters which allow people to pay for their parking directly from their smartphone. You can even get an alert on your phone when your metered time is due to run out and you can opt to pay more into the meter from wherever you are. The benefits of this scenario couldn’t be clearer.
Tours or exhibits
Including NFC tags on exhibits or next to paintings in museums or art galleries would allow people to access additional information about whatever it is they’re examining. They could point to a simple web page or be linked up to an audio or video app. This idea would work equally well for tours of all kinds. Additional information via NFC tags could be provided on historical landmarks and points of interest anywhere. The Museum of London is already trying NFC for a variety of things to enhance the visitor experience.
Instead of picking up a physical copy of a newspaper on your daily commute you could use NFC to grab a digital copy for your phone. The same thing would work well for flyers, brochures, and even groceries. It would save time and paper. You could also pick up promotional offers and vouchers to use later.
Though this will scare some of you, your NFC-enabled smartphone could store all sorts of personal information about you for sharing. This could include a business card, a resume, or just a basic name and address. Exchanging contact information would be a breeze and you could register an interest in a job with a tap of your phone. Companies could have promotional information or a map of the building available in the lobby for visitors.
No need to carry an access card for work. You could use your phone as a digital key. This could work for hotels as well. As with mobile payments, you could require the user to enter a PIN for an added layer of security.
Tracking medical patients
You might feel strange about having your medical history on your phone, but it could save a lot of time on visits to the doctor or the hospital. Perhaps that’s a step too far, but how about an NFC tracking tag that allows medical staff to plot your journey through the hospital? It could help ensure you receive the correct treatment. It would also speed up the paperwork trail as medical professionals could just scan your tag instead of filling out forms.
NFC could be used to create gaming experiences that allow you to interact with the real world. Nokia has been working on some NFC games. To be honest what they’ve come up with so far is pretty dull, but the potential is there to create some fun interactive experiences. If some real game developers take an interest then we could see something special.
With programmable tags like Samsung’s TecTiles you can really make use of NFC yourself. We’ll be discussing the possibilities of automating your smartphone profiles based on pre-set parameters soon, but imagine being able to tap your phone on an NFC tag (which is essentially a sticker) and autodial a number or send a pre-written text message.
Marketing and replacing QR codes
With QR codes, you can achieve a lot of the same things as you can with NFC tags. Previously, people had to scan a QR code, which involved using an app like Barcode Scanner and using the phone’s camera. With NFC, you can just tap your phone on a poster and trigger an app download, a promotional voucher, or a website address. In terms of marketing, NFC can be used in the same way as QR codes, it just makes things easier.
There are plenty of Bluetooth accessories for smartphones. How about using NFC instead? There’s already a foldable smartphone keyboard using NFC. We could see a new wave of NFC-enabled accessories.
The basic capabilities of NFC allow for a wide range of possible uses and the main point is convenience. You can imagine attending a lecture or a pitch and just tapping your phone to download notes and further information when you leave. Checkout lines could be cleared faster, queues for tickets could be a thing of the past, and further information on a host of things could be a tap away.
It all depends on how quickly NFC is adopted and whether companies see the added value in using it. The latest smartphone releases are all offering NFC. If the iPhone 5 adopts NFC as well, then we can expect it to take off a bit faster.