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7 comments

Automate Your Life With Your NFC Capable Smartphone - Part I

Posted May 17, 2012 12:01 PM by yamdankee
Pathfinder Tags: Android near field communication NFC NFC tags smartphone
User-tagged by 1 user

What is NFC?

NFC stands for Near Field Communication. It uses electromagnetic radio fields to allow two compatible devices to exchange data. It's not a new concept, and the Japanese have been using it extensively over the past decade. Thanks to Google (Android), phone manufacturers, and other wireless tech companies, it's starting to gain footing in the US market. This short range, wireless standard is an enhanced version of RFID technology used in one way communication devices, such as contactless bank cards, which allows two devices in close proximity to talk to each other. Basically, put two NFC devices close to each other, and they exchange information and commands immediately.

(NFC Logo Credit: NFC-Forum.org)

How Does it Work?

NFC operates at 13.56 MHz at rates ranging from 106 kbit/s to 424 kbit/s. NFC technology can be broken up into 3 categories: Signal Technologies, Tag Types, and Modes of Operation. There are three different RFID Signal Technologies that exist to make NFC devices talk to each other.

NFC-A uses Miller encoding, also known as delay encoding, which registers 1s and 0s as a change from 0 to 100% amplitude modulation and 100 to 0% percent modulation respectively.

NFC-B similarly uses a change in modulation percentage to register a 1 or a 0. In this case, amplitude modulation is at 10 percent, meaning a 10 percent change from 90% for low, to 100% for high, is used. As opposed to NFC-A, a change from low to high represents a 0, while high to low represents a 1.

NFC-F is a passive contactless payment system referring to FeliCa, short for Felicity Card. Commonly found in Japan, this encrypted signal is a faster form of RFID transmission and is currently the most popular form used for a variety of services such as subway tickets, credit card payments, and identification.

Tag Types. In addition to the signaling technologies, there are four Tag Types. These refer to the speed and compatibility between an NFC tag and an NFC reader. Some NFC tags only contain a URL, for example, and don't take up much memory at all. This allows for cheap production of NFC tags that can be placed on posters or other things that will probably just end up getting thrown away when a promotion or advertisement is over. These would include Tag Types 1 and 2. Tag Type 3 has larger memory and faster speeds than 1 or 2, but costs more to produce. Type 3 Tags are used with NFC-F. Type 4 Tags use NFC-A or B, and can be set as either rewritable or read-only from the factory. They hold 32 Kbytes of memory and are the fastest tags available. (Clear NFC Tag Courtesy of http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/3.0/)

Modes of Operation. This is where it gets fun. There are two sets of active/passive roles, or modes of operation. One is the transaction between readers/writers and an NFC card. Typically a transaction occurs between an active device that sends signals out and receives information back, and a passive device that simply sends the information and doesn't care about anything else other than what it's told to reply with. For example, the reader/writer here would be a smartphone and the passive device would be an NFC tag. The beauty of NFC and smart phones is that the phone can also take on the role of a card and act as a credit card for contactless payments. So the credit card reader then becomes the reader/writer and the smartphone is the passive device. To see my example of NFC working for me, jump to stay tuned for Part II - Example of its Power.

Finally, the other mode of operation is initiator and target. NFC holds an advantage over other technologies such as RFID for this reason. Using this mode, NFC can create peer-to-peer sharing between phones. The phone making a connection or sending the invitation would be the initiator and the phone receiving the data is the target. Both phones can serve both roles and switch back and forth.

Breakdown of NFC Technology

What Are the Benefits?

As with anything running on your mobile device, power consumption is a top concern. Thankfully, the NFC initiator (smartphone) uses less than 15 mA while reading, and much less than that while in an idle, ready-to-read state. Plus, all NFC enabled Android handsets are programmed to run the NFC radio only when the screen is on. So all in all, power consumption is negligible. Many people believe that turning off this option on an NFC enable phone will conserve battery life. Technically this is true, but again it only polls when the screen is on and the power consumed is so minimal, you'd hardly notice either way.

So what is the benefit when compared to existing wireless protocols such as WiFi or Bluetooth? Besides NFC using drastically less power, it establishes a connection instantly (less than a 10th of a second). The ability to establish a data connection without an IP address, without passwords, without pairing, without even looking at the device - just a simple wave or tap on its target - basically turns your phone into a magic wand, automating every day repetitive tasks with a simple motion. And, to me, it's just cool to pay for a soda by pulling out your phone, tapping the reader at checkout, and walking away.

NFC serves as the backbone for current and planned mobile wallet systems, but it can be used for much more than commerce. Other uses include quickly tossing your schedules, maps, links, business cards, images, and other information in one simple tap to another NFC device such as a friend or business partner's phone. It can be used to bootstrap another wireless connection such as connecting to a WiFi network or pairing a Bluetooth connection. Social networking, keycards, the list can go on - we'll get to the practicality soon in Part II - Example of its Power, so sit tight. But in order to enjoy the benefits, you must have an NFC enabled phone. Click here to find a list of current NFC enabled phones.

If you have an NFC phone and you're lucky enough to have Google Wallet support, be sure to download the app and get a free $10 wallet credit upon installation that can be used for anything.

Now that you're an expert in NFC technology, let's use it to make our lives easier! Next week, in Part II, I will show you how to set up an NFC enabled Android phone (Samsung Galaxy Nexus) to automatically start playing music when you get in your car. You may ask, "Is that really necessary?" No, not really. Well, you decide. Consider this: Many use WiFi at home, and then switch to 3G/4G when they go out. Switching WiFi off when not in use helps battery life. Many keep Bluetooth switched off for the same reason. So if your routine is similar to mine, you would get in the car, turn off WiFi, turn on Bluetooth, open the media player, choose an album, press play, and put the phone away. Assume it takes you 10 seconds to do this. If you wish to have music every time you drive, let's say minimum of twice daily (daily commute, weekend activity), you would spend 20 seconds every day performing a mundane task. That may not seem like much, but over the course of a year you wasted a minimum of 2 hours doing nothing but essentially turning on and off a switch. The more manual tasks you let NFC tags handle, the more time you save.

How Can I Get Started?

You'll need some tags: I recommend Tag Stand's Starter Kit. They also provide tags that can adhere to and work on metal surfaces, and outdoor rated. One thing to note is that if you're running Android 4.0.2 or lower, you need to add a comment on your order requesting that they preformat your tags, since there's a bug in < 4.0.3 that won't let the phone format tags. If you're on 4.0.3 or higher, nothing to worry about; they'll work out of the box.

You'll also need a reader/writer: NFC Task Launcher, or Tag Writer. That's basically all you need to get started. The only limit to what you can do with NFC is your imagination. Let's get some ideas flowing then, shall we?

Ideas for Implementation

· Make your phone quiet and peaceful for bed time

· Toggle GPS, radios, and launch apps

· Unlock your front door

· Traditional keyboards too convenient for you? How about the headache-inducing NFC keyboard?

· Control your whole house!

· Spend a lot of time in the kitchen? Slap a tag onto your stove or fridge to launch a pre-set timer for your pizza!

I'm far from the most creative person in the world, so I'd love to hear some ideas from the engineers on CR4! How do you think we could use NFC or NFC Tags to make our lives simpler or automate repetitive, everyday tasks?

Sources:

Near Field Communication

Contactless Smart Card

NFC Forum

NFC Org

APC Inside NFC: how near field communication works

Charge Smart Blog What is 'NFC' Technology?

PCWorld 10 Ways to Boost Your Smartphone's Battery Life

Android Police Fun With NFC

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#1

Re: Automate Your Life With Your NFC Capable Smartphone - Part I

05/17/2012 1:15 PM

I'm waiting for the thought controlled version...

YES YES IT'S MOVING!!

Look into my eyes mind.....you are under my control...TV on!

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#2

Re: Automate Your Life With Your NFC Capable Smartphone - Part I

05/17/2012 2:13 PM

This is cool stuff. I find closing and launching the same apps when going to my car, the office or my apartment. I don't have the best mobile device sadly and it isn't NFC enabled.

I wonder why more devices aren't NFC enabled. Any thoughts?

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Re: Automate Your Life With Your NFC Capable Smartphone - Part I

05/17/2012 3:13 PM

Oh I think it's just a matter of time, as the public becomes aware of different technologies that are available, they want them...I'm sure there will be different controller interface designs of varied sophistication, this is still very new....Most of these car applications are voice controlled now, or at least have that capability...Some people may not like being that predictable, and find this uncomfortable being forced into a rut...

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#4

Re: Automate Your Life With Your NFC Capable Smartphone - Part I

05/17/2012 3:17 PM

I'm particularly impressed with the application with the door, but I've seen it used for music pretty flawlessly, and I've seen people hide tags in their watches / bracelets to perform some basic functions. It's rumored that the iPhone 5 will have NFC technology integrated into them, but until then, I guess I'll just read this and twiddle my thumbs.

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#5

Re: Automate Your Life With Your NFC Capable Smartphone - Part I

05/17/2012 3:37 PM

Baxter: Like SolarEagle said, and what I briefly mentioned in the intro, the technology and usefulness is clearly there, it's just going to take some time for bigger names to catch on. Wireless providers, phone manufacturers, financial institutions - all of them have to catch on in order for this to really take off. It pains me to admit this, but probably with the next iPhone having NFC, depending on how much Apple pushes or cares about it, NFC will then likely get a boost in popularity. Credit card companies, banks, etc are not exactly chomping at the bit to pour money into development for mobile payment platforms if only a handful of devices, and device owners, have the ability to make use of it.

Mizuti: Wait, the iPhone already has NFC!

Oh, what's that? Did they just shove an NFC bank card in their iPhone? Yup.

That's a good idea about putting a tag behind my watch! I think I'll use it to turn on and off WiFi tethering, plus it protects the finish!

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#6

Re: Automate Your Life With Your NFC Capable Smartphone - Part I

05/21/2012 1:42 PM

Maybe the cell phone providers/manufacturers should include a couple blank NFC tags with the purchase of a NFC enabled phone, as I'm sure some people don't even know their phone has this technology.

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#7

Re: Automate Your Life With Your NFC Capable Smartphone - Part I

06/15/2012 12:52 PM

This is a really, really cool. I didn't realize how cheap the tags are nor just how easily the tasks can be programmed. I'll have to grab a few for my HTC One X. I like both the car and watch ideas. Particularly the watch for next year at school- launching google music as i'm leaving class and the headphones are in, then turning it back off as i sit down for another class. Great post.

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Baxter (1); ejhollyer (1); ETOB (1); Mizuti (1); SolarEagle (2); yamdankee (1)

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