Why aren’t we using NFC to its fullest potential?
NFC is a technology that most of today’s smartphones have. You can transfer small amounts of data between two devices by simply tapping them together. You have undoubtedly heard of NFC when it comes to tap-to-pay solutions like Google Pay, Samsung Pay, or Apple Pay.
Recently, Apple announced Apple Car Keys – an NFC solution that allows you to unlock your car using your phone instead of a key. However, these two examples seem to be the biggest, coolest things NFC has ever been used for. Are more coming or are there more examples hidden in consumer technology? Let’s explore the fun things we could use NFC for.
Learn more about NFC here:
- What is NFC and how does it work?
- Everything you need to know about NFC tags
What can NFC do now?
Believe it or not, the list is pretty short. NFC is inherently a simple, low-speed connection. It’s bad for things like large files, but you can still use it for small things like pictures. In addition, unlike Bluetooth, it requires very close proximity. The result is a communication platform where the transmission must be mostly instantaneous, or you can use something else as well. Here is a short list of things you can actually use NFC for right now.
- By far the most popular use for NFC is tap-to-pay technology like Google Pay, Apple Pay, or Samsung Pay. Simply tap the terminal with your phone (usually with the app open) to pay for goods without using a debit card. This has also expanded to things like boarding passes in some regions, where you can import your boarding pass into Google Pay like a loyalty card.
- With NFC tags and stickers, you can program information such as contact information or actions such as turning your smart lights on and off. They can be bought online and require a bit of setup with an app like this one. Shops and businesses often use NFC tags for marketing purposes or to quickly deliver product information to consumers.
- Many Bluetooth speakers and headphones are equipped with NFC. You just tap your phone to pair it with the bluetooth speaker and off you go.
- Some devices come with NFC for various quick actions. For example, LG washers and dryers come with the technology. You can use it to download preset cycles so you can dial them in faster next time.
- There are a few game applications. For example, the new Nintendo 3DS has NFC, as does Nintendo’s Amiibo platform. In addition, many games use real toys and NFC to trigger events in the game. An early notable example is Skylanders: Spyro’s Adventure from 2011.
- A growing trend is NFC technology in fitness studios. You can download your workout details from the devices you use, but that’s still relatively new.
- The medical field currently includes NFC with a number of uses like DNA tags, an NFC enabled patch to measure body temperature, and all sorts of other things you can read about here.
It’s pretty much the list, but it goes a little deeper. For example, you can find NFC key chains, rings, pet collars, NFC implanted in your body, and even things like flexible labels or buttons that can be sewn onto (or into) clothing. They’re all just creative uses and placements of basic NFC tags, but it’s fun to see how these things get into different products.
Even so, the list isn’t as long as it seems. Tap-to-pay aside, the rest is basically just the same old NFC tag functionality burned into another product for a different purpose. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it basically breaks the list down to two things. You can tap to pay, or you can tap an NFC tag to get information or take a quick action. That’s all.
What’s coming through the pipelines for NFC?
We said earlier that NFC is a pretty simple technology. The simplicity makes it easy to use, but it limits its potential. Still, there are some developments that could make it more relevant than ever before.
Wireless charging via NFC
Perhaps one of the biggest developments is wireless charging via NFC. The NFC forum announced the functions back in May 2020. We don’t know when or if it will ever hit smartphones. However, it will likely come to things like smartwatches, IoT technology, and other devices with smaller batteries.
It’s not very fast at the moment (around 1W), which makes it a bad solution for phones with bigger and bigger batteries. However, if you don’t need to use standard wireless charging technology, you can make room in the devices for other things like bigger batteries or other new technology.
NFC router pairing
When I wrote this piece, I honestly thought it was one thing. The world’s first one-touch NFC router was launched by Huawei in November 2019. NFC is a pretty decent use case for Wi-Fi routers. Many have a WPS button for connecting with a single button press. However, NFC is faster and easier, especially for guests.
Linksys has similar technology with a SimpleTap card, but for that you need to keep an eye on additional accessories so they aren’t actually the same. The widespread adoption of this technology by Wi-Fi routers would make pairing a lot easier and remove an uncomfortable, if minor, pain point in the home network.
Vehicle assistance is another example where things are already moving. BMW is currently expanding the technology to include vehicles. So are others like Audi, Mercedes-Benz, Honda, Volkswagen and Cadillac. Apple has Apple Car Key to use NFC technology, and we expect Android will continue to do so in the future. Tesla owners can already use NFC in their vehicles with the official app.
NFC is an obvious choice here. Digital key management systems can be complex and current Bluetooth solutions are often inconsistent. With NFC, you can simply tap your car door with your phone and get in immediately. The NFC forum speculates that an NFC-based digital key system can also help companies like Turo that run an Airbnb-like car loan service.
We’d actually like to see this on Android phones, except that Google saw very little use when Smart Lock existed. It was later removed so we don’t think people would actually use it on smartphones.
The eID movement
In some countries, electronic identification cards (eID cards) can be stored on devices. There is already a system in Germany. Samsung started supporting the technology with the Samsung Galaxy S20 series of devices. Android 11 also supports driver’s licenses with its IdentityCredential API, with additional support added. Finally, we can easily show IDs to shops and the police. The basics are already in place.
What else could we use NFC for?
In general, it’s difficult to imagine a future roadmap when NFC can be so versatile, yet so limited. Something like government IDs and driver’s licenses make sense since tap-to-pay is already in place. On the other hand, who could have predicted that NFC wireless charging would become a thing? The great thing about technology is to be able to exchange a small amount of information quickly. Frankly, it’s surprising how much little information we can share.
So let’s get back to the heading. Betteridge’s law of headlines seems to suggest that the answer might be no. However, it feels like NFC is actually chugging around on a pretty decent clip. Tap-to-Pay is evolving into Tap-to-Identify as larger, more powerful machines get the technology every year. The addition of wireless charging (mostly for smaller devices) shows the technology’s ability to evolve and adapt.
At this point, it is only a matter of time before companies find more uses for the technology. With the rise of UWB in devices like the iPhone 11 and 12 along with the Note 20 Ultra, NFC might even see some competition in the future.
What do you think it could be used for in the future? Share your cool NFC ideas in the comments.