NFC (Near Field Communication)

After having read about NFC for the past year as being a “credit card killer” technology and recently seeing this article, I finally decided to do some research so that I could understand what all this buzz is about. In this blog entry I will summarize what NFC technology is and what the advantages are over similar existing communication technologies.

Very simply, NFC, or Near Field Communication, allows two devices with an NFC chip to be able to communicate with each other simply by bringing the two devices into close proximity to each other. For the credit card-like application mentioned in the article I linked to above, this means that to initiate a credit card-like transaction all an individual will have to do to purchase something, say a coffee at your favorite shop, is touch his or her’s NFC-enabled smart phone to a stationary device at a physical checkout location at the shop.

While this sounds nice, it is not readily apparent how NFC technology is much better than a swiping a credit or debit card. The most obvious advantage is that if you own an NFC enabled smart phone you will not have to carry around a credit card. Although that is only a small advantage, it is probably enough of an upside to warrant the predictions that credit cards will be much less common by 2020 if most smart phones by then are NFC enabled. So, to understand all the hype about this “credit card killer” technology, we must look into other advantages of NFC to see why most smart phones will be enabled for it in the near future.

First, NFC allows for two-way communication. Unlike existing QR codes, where the smart phone can be used to scan an image of the QR code to receive information, NFC can transmit information to the station it is connecting with to receive customized information. As an example, at the last O+ Festival of Art, Music and Wellness, each exhibit and performance venue had a QR code people at the festival could scan with a smart phone to bring them to a web-page with information about that exhibit. I’m not sure if the festival had a QR code for the schedule of events, however if it did, and NFC was used instead of a QR code, the smart phone could then transmit information about your interests, such as whether you are interested in art or music, or what style of art or music, and the information the phone receives back from the NFC station could bring you to a customized schedule listing only, say, jazz music performances.

Another possible application would be a menu at a restaurant. If you have some kind of dietary restrictions, those restrictions could be stored in the phone, and when you tap a connecting station at the restaurant to receive the menu, you could get a customized menu showing only the menu items that meet your personal dietary restrictions.

Second, NFC can make file transfers between smart phone users very simple. NFC in itself is too slow to perform the actual file transfer, but can be used to establish a faster Bluetooth connection with another smart phone user simply by tapping the two phones together as seen in this video:

Third, due the proximity of the few centimeters NFC requires to establish a connection, there is a tremendous security advantage over longer range communication protocols like Wi-Fi. It is very unlikely that a hacker will be in close enough proximity to hack into your communication stream. This security advantage and ease of establishing a connection by simply tapping the two devices together loans itself to monetary transactions, and is where NFC is getting it’s reputation as a “credit card killer”.

So, my current thoughts are that NFC technology will indeed become standard in every smart phone in the foreseeable future, will make credit cards a thing of the past, and will allow many innovative, convenient, time-saving applications to be developed. For instance, take into consideration this video:

As can be seen in the above video, NFC technology, even without any particular commercial application behind it, has potential to become a ubiquitous feature on smart phones. Just in case you are still confused about what the buzz is all about with NFC technology, please refer to this article for some very clear information about it. It helped my understanding of NFC technology tremendously.



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