What is NFC? Here’s everything you need to know

All of today’s smartphones are equipped with NFC technology. Whether you realize it or not, your phone is likely using NFC right now. But don’t worry — NFC uses minimal battery and processing power while offering a host of benefits that improve the functionality of your device.

Although it’s widely used in peer-to-peer payment and data transfer apps, NFC has many more applications that can make your life easier. Read on to find out how you can fully take advantage of your phone’s NFC capability.

What is NFC?

NFC stands for near-field communication and it allows phones, tablets, laptops, and other devices to easily share data with other NFC-equipped devices. It evolved from radio-frequency identification (RFID) technology. 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 has taken off as a secure alternative to credit cards. The technology can be used for more than buying coffee at Starbucks, however. NFC can also 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 instantly 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.

NFC payments

Mobile payments

As consumerism gradually transitions to a cashless world, mobile payments have become a popular method of transaction. With the cooperation of banks and the biometric technology equipped on most modern smartphones, making a mobile payment is secure and convenient. Placing your smartphone within four inches of the contactless reader in a store will prompt your digital wallet or passbook to pop up and ask you to confirm payment. With Apple Pay, this means placing your finger on the home button, which houses the Touch ID function, or double pressing your power button to scan your face with Face ID. It also works with Google Pay and Samsung Pay.

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 (since version 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich), but it’s a little-known feature, which may be part of the reason that Google discontinued it. Starting with Android 10, Android Beam no longer works and it has not yet been replaced with anything.

Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

NFC Chips

These passive tags don’t require power and 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 tag, you can set your phone to vibrate, disable GPS, or enable only work-related notifications, among other options.

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 a mostly up-to-date list of NFC-enabled phones. Lots of Android devices have NFC, and every iPhone since the iPhone 6 is also packing the feature.

Every iPhone since the iPhone 6

For a long time, Apple restricted NFC-equipped devices to making purchases. However, the latest batch of iPhones, including the iPhone 11 Pro, 11 Pro Max, and 11 also support NFC tags through the Launch Center Pro app.

NFC was also added to the iPad range starting with the iPad Pro, the iPad Air 2, and the third-generation iPad Mini, but those devices won’t work with in-store contactless readers. For a full breakdown of all Apple devices that support NFC and what their limitations are in terms of Apple Pay, check out this Apple support page.

Every device running on Android 4.0 or later

If your device is running Android 4.4 or later, you can use Google Pay. If you have a Samsung device, you can also use Samsung Pay.

Android phones with Android 4.4 or later up to Android 9.0 can also use Android Beam, which allows the exchange of pretty much any kind of info, including YouTube videos, webpages, or contact information. To enable Android Beam, go to your phone’s settings. The location on a Samsung Galaxy S10 is under Settings > Connections > NFC and payment. To enable, select NFC. Then locate and select Android Beam. To use the Beam feature, it’s necessary to place your phone near another device that has an NFC chip. A notification will appear and ask you to confirm that you want to communicate with the detected device.

What else can NFC do

Apple Pay, Google Pay, Samsung Pay, and other digital wallets are only part of what NFC can do. For music lovers, NFC allows you to connect your smartphone with speakers rapidly, which is great for parties and even fitness classes. NFC technology has helped speed up the process of public transit by letting patrons use their NFC-enabled smartphones as scannable bus or metro passes, which is also more eco-friendly. You can usually add more money to your virtual transit pass via an app. This technology also allows for the use of loyalty cards. Then, there’s the option to implant an NFC chip into your body.

You can utilize NFC tags for various endeavors. One way to explore and acquaint yourself with NFC ventures is to create NFC coasters to grant visitors access to your Wi-Fi.

Editors' Recommendations