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

Greenlight's smart debit card for kids is now available on Apple Pay.

NFC is now 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, Apple Watch, and other Apple products that is making its way into hundreds of thousands of stores and online retailers. But you may not know what NFC is, the uses for it, or why we should actually care.

The fact is, NFC is more than a wallet replacement. There’s nearly endless potential when NFC chips are involved. This guide 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 every day or bypass that tollbooth on your morning commute.

NFC is very much like RFID, but NFC is limited to communication within about four inches, which is why you have to hold your phone so close to the contactless reader if you’re using Apple Pay or Samsung Pay. 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. The technology can be used for more than making purchases at Bloomingdales, however. 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 previously specified 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 we already use NFC between devices.

Digital Wallet: Placing your smartphone within four inches of the Pay Pad or contactless reader 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, which houses the Touch ID function. It also works with Android Pay and Samsung Pay.

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. Android devices have been able to use Android Beam for a while now, but it’s a little-known feature.

NFC Chips: These “taps” can be programmed with apps like 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 every day. To keep track of what devices are taking advantage of NFC technology, NFC world maintains an up-to-date list of NFC-enabled phones. It was last updated on December 7. Lots of Android devices have NFC, but Apple is new to this tech, so here are the iPhones that have the feature.

 Apple Watch iPhone 7 iPhone 6S
 iPhone SE iPhone 7 Plus iPhone 6S Plus

NFC is a relatively new addition in the Apple world. Sadly, Apple’s offering of NFC-equipped devices can only make purchases. The ability to share data with a simple scan isn’t available, and the company isn’t too keen on expanding its NFC functionality to areas it doesn’t think need it.


The NFC chip is included in the iPad Pro, the iPad Air 2, and the 3rd and 4th generation iPad Mini, but this Apple support page confirms those devices won’t work with in-store Pay pads, but only with certain apps and within the mobile Safari browser. Many companies, retailers, and banks are currently Apple Pay-ready.

Every device running on Android 4.0 or later

nfc explained android payAndroid 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, and Android Pay, provided they’re running Android 4.4 or later.

Android Beam can be enabled through your Phone’s Settings > More. First. toggle NFC on, then tap Android Beam and toggle it on as well. Android users 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 a list encompassing all of them.

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