NFC is something you may often hear about in regards to new smartphones, but something which few people have an understanding of, or even use. Yes, it’s an acronym, but not all acronyms have to be scary! Not only is NFC easy to understand (at least in principle), it can also be incredibly useful. Here’s all you need to know about what NFC is and why you should use it.
What is NFC?
NFC stands for near-field-communication, essentially, a way for your phone to interact with something in close proximity. It operates within a radius of about 4 cm and provides a wireless connection between your device and another. This allows for two-way communication, with both devices involved being able to send and receive information. This NFC connection does not rely on Wi-Fi, 3G, LTE, or otherwise, and it does not cost to use.
So it’s like Bluetooth?
You’re a fast learner, it is like Bluetooth! Both Bluetooth and NFC offer wireless 2-way transmission between devices and usually come as standard on modern smartphones.
However, they do differ in some areas. Bluetooth has a larger operational range (up to 30 feet, in some instances), but it usually consumes more battery (though this is quickly changing thanks to the latest Bluetooth low energy, or BLE, developments). Also, Bluetooth takes a little longer to set up and, because of its wide range, can be a little more difficult to navigate in crowded situations.
Which is better: NFC or Bluetooth?
Because NFC needs to be in close proximity, it is easier to set up and pair with another device than Bluetooth. The connection is made within a fraction of a second, but the data transfer speed is slower. The NFC’s ease of use is its biggest strength and it can also be used in conjunction with Bluetooth for even better performance. Ultimately, both technologies have their benefits, NFC for simplicity and Bluetooth for larger range and more demanding file transfers.
What can I use NFC for?
Listening to music with wireless speakers
One of the typical uses of NFC technology is listening to music through wireless speakers. In this case, the NFC relies on the data transfer via Bluetooth, but it’s the NFC which is responsible for the initial connection of smartphone to your speakers. This optimizes the connection without having to resort to the fiddly Bluetooth pairing of speaker and smartphones, as I discussed above.
Connecting with NFC tags
The NFC tags are small physical “tags” or “stickers” containing NFC chips can be programmed to provide any kind of information to your smartphone. Typically, an NFC tag contains links to a web address, but it can also be set to perform certain actions with your smartphone, like turn on the Wi-Fi, or turn down the ringer.
In the future these tags could be embedded into just about anything. For example, an NFC tag could be used in a restaurant menu to make the most up-to-date version of it available immediately on your phone. All you would need to do is bring your smartphone into proximity of the physical menu, and you could potentially browse more detailed information of certain menu items, like nutritional value or ingredients. Where NFC presents an advantage over current QR technology is that there is no need for a “scanner app”, the information is available instantaneously.
Making payments with NFC
What will possibly become the biggest use for NFC in the near (field) future is Tap and Pay option it provides. NFC payments are already available in many stores across the US, and the UK for purchases of £15 or less, using an app like Softcard or Google Wallet: all it involves is tapping your phone against an enabled terminal. Now that Apple has included an NFC antenna in the iPhone 6 to work in conjuction with its new Apple Pay feature (and will include similar functionality in the Apple Watch), these type of cardless, wireless payments are going to become more and more prevalent.
Using NFC for file transfer
Through NFC connectivity you can also send certain files between devices using Android Beam. First you need to enable NFC and Android Beam on both devices, then all you need to do is go to the file you wish to send, say, a photo, and tap the devices together! That’s right, you don’t even need to select any “send via” options, just put the devices back to back, and when it asks to confirm the transfer hit "touch to beam". You can also do this with the help of a dedicated app such as File Beam, and the result is a much simpler and faster way of sending files between two neighbouring handsets.
How do I know if my phone has NFC functionality?
It will depend on your handset, but generally you can go to "settings" > "wireless and networks" to see if NFC is listed. Most modern smartphones now come with NFC as standard.
There you have it. NFC provides the quickest way to set up connections between electronic devices and provides the fastest solution for file transfer between handsets in close proximity.
Do you use NFC on your smartphone? What uses have you found for it?