Chris Murphy · 11 January, 2021 · Reading Time: 5 Minutes
Summary: In 2019–20, I was new to Near Field Communication (NFC) and I’m sharing what I’ve learned so far here. …include in my 2019-20 teaching at Belfast School of Art
The following is what I learned through the process of reading about and developing some projects for a Near Field Communication workshop. I’ll be running this workshop for my Interaction Design students this forthcoming academic year.
NFC (Near Field Communication) is a set of communication protocols that enable two electronic devices – one of which is usually a portable device, for example, a smartphone – to establish communication by bringing them within ~four centimetres of each other.
Unlike Bluetooth, NFC doesn’t require any form of device discovery or manual pairing to transfer data, which opens it up to multiple potential uses. With Near Field Communication a connection is automatically triggered when another NFC device is in range. Once in range, the two devices instantly communicate and send prompts to the user.
You’ve probably used Near Field Communication already, if you’ve paid for something with a contactless reader, if you’re using Apple Pay or Samsung Pay or a contactless credit card.
54p per tag (for
50) is a low enough cost to buy some NFC tags to experiment with. Once you’ve decided how you’re going to use them, you can buy them in bulk. You can also buy them in bulk, pre-programmed.
NFC tags contain a small unpowered NFC chip. Depending on how the tag is programmed, an NFC tag can: change various settings, launch apps and perform certain actions, just by holding your smartphone close to it.
The tag takes a small amount of power from the phone – generated by a Radio Frequency (RF) field – and sends the information that’s stored on it to the phone.
There are a range of different types of data you can program into an NFC tag, for example:
- You could include a URL to a web page, or a URL for an app on Apple’s App Store or Google’s Play Store.
- You could share your home Wi-Fi network with guests when they visit, replacing what’s usually a cumbersome process with something magical.
- You could create a digital business card at a fraction of the cost that Moo charges for its Business Cards+ (and Moo are out of stock, in any case).
Programming an NFC Tag
You can easily encode, erase, edit and lock an NFC tag in under a minute. To do this, you just need to hover your phone over the tag and use an app to pass data to the tag.
Unfortunately, Apple’s iOS NFC SDK (Software Development Kit), Core NFC, doesn’t support writing NFC tags, only reading them. So, to program an NFC tag – until Apple updates Core NFC, which it’s working on for iOS 13 – you’ll need to use an Android device.
Apple has provided a useful overview of Core NFC, that’s worth reading. They have also provided sample code for a project (iOS 13, Beta) that allows you to create NFC tags from your iPhone, saving data to tags and interacting with them using native tag protocols.
Unfortunately this is beta software, so – unless you’re running an iOS 13 Beta – you’ll need to wait for iOS 13’s stable release later in 2019. The good news is that native support is coming, albeit belatedly.
If you’re running an Android device, you can get started right away. It is very, very easy.
I used a Google Pixel and downloaded NXP’s TagWriter, which – amongst a long list of other things – allowed me to write:
- Business Card
- Plain Text
I was able to write a message (‘I love you…’) and a mobile number (Cara’s) to an NFC tag and, when I placed my phone beside the tag, it texted Cara. Magic.
One of my summer projects – preparing for my teaching in 2019-20 – was the creation of what Moo call a Business Card+ that has data on it. It would be nice to have business cards that just said:
Mr Murphy ®
These cards would have an NFC tag on them that took you to my site – https://mrmurphy.com/contact/ – just by holding your phone near the card. Then I could give potential clients a business card that has all of my details programmed in.
Imagine being able to walk around an exhibition and be able to find out more about different exhibits. NFC tags would be perfect for this.
NFC looks interesting and it’s something we could explore in a short workshop for #ixdbelfast, perhaps in the ‘Micro-Publications’ workshop. I’m working on workshop resources – this page is the start of this process – so that we can explore this in the forthcoming academic year.