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Summary:

Don’t think that wireless NFC tags are just for mobile payments. You can do practically anything with them if you know how to program them with small bits of data. Some free apps make this easy and I’m already on the NFC bandwagon at home.

Samsung NFC tags

When you mention NFC to someone, they either think of the National Football Conference in the U.S. or a method of wireless payments. But near-field communications (NFC) technology is actually neither: It’s a way of wirelessly transmitting data. That data could be for a mobile payment or, like I demonstrated earlier this month, it could be used to transmit contact information from an NFC-enabled business card.

Since I own two Android smartphones with NFC chips — the Galaxy Nexus and Galaxy Note 2 — I’m interested to see what else I can do with NFC. So I bought five NFC stickers and set out to learn. Turns out these little tags are already coming in handy: I’m using them to change my phone settings when I leave home and when I return.

Unfortunately, the NFC tags and software I started to use seem limited to Samsung phones and there appear to various tag standards. I’ve already found a new free Android app and other tags for a more universal solution. NFC Task Launcher, for example, works on the Nexus 4 smartphone built by LG. The developer also sells NFC tags in several different shapes, sizes and even for both indoor and outdoor use. And the supporting application offers more control options as well.

For now, I’m just experimenting but I’m thinking that with several NFC tags around the house, I can eventually tie into my home automation system and much more with this low-cost wireless tech.

  1. I too am a big fan of NFC tags, I have one that does a switch for sleep and wake that is on my night stand, and I also have one at work for when I get in that turns down the volume and connects to the wi-fi and sends a txt to the wife, that I made it safe. I to am looking for more interesting ways to use them, thinking about on for the car that turns on sat nav & cranks up the volume etc.

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    1. Great uses and ideas, Pete, thanks for sharing! I didn’t realize how easy it was to modify the programming on these tags, but once I saw how simple it was, I was hooked. I think I have more ideas than tags right now. ;)

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    2. I use them for these purposes and more. NFC Task Launcher lets me perform two sets of actions in each alternate scan. So using one tag I can tap it at night to reduce volume, turn off notifications, reduce brightness while on washing up, when I tap the same tag it turns notifications on, brightness auto and launched the weather app. This way I use fewer tags. I also have one in the office I tap beefier going to and after coming from office.

      Some other items are also nfc tags. like my office entry pass and the public transport card in Netherlands. I have programmed NFC Task Launcher to launch certain apps when I tap these cards to the phone.

      people are always amazed to see this and they wish they choose the s3

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  2. Check out the free app – Tagtrail by Identive. It provides a cool horizontal scrolling gallery of your tag reading history – so you can go back and re-experience the tag you tapped (both NFC and QR).

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  3. Except you don’t need a tag to change settings based on location, Motorola Smart Actions and other similar apps do it by using GPS,(ofc other events besides location can trigger an action too)- no idea if Google Now has any similar functionality yet but it should soon enough.
    Using NFC tags for this is just pointless and a waste.
    The phone itself is loaded with sensors and a lot of things can be done without the need for another discrete,external,device so NFC is great and all but when it’s needed not when it’s redundant.

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    1. Correct, there are other ways to do this as I noted in the video. This was simply an example. Also, it’s more universal; Smart Actions are great, but they only work on Motorola phones.

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      1. Haven’t watched the video yet ,listening to something else so i’ll check that out later.As for apps there are others like the one you wrote about a while ago (Atooma).

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  4. Glad to see an article more focused on the task-features with NFC !

    Question: do you know any manufacturer other than Moneto that makes NFC micro SD cards?

    I’m not that interested in mobile payment (and Moneto seems to be only focused on mobile payment…).

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  5. I’ve found an app to reuse some NFC cards as those from hotels or public transportation systems.
    it works pretty well for me and don’t need to buy writable tags.

    The app is NFc Retag

    I wrote a post on my blog about it but (sorry) it’s only in Spanish buy if you want to check it is in here http://ow.ly/fDDRE

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    1. Good find, Sonia. I’ll check it out – thanks!

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      1. Any Tag has the same functions, plus it FREE!!

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    2. I’ve reused and personalized hotel keys in Tokyo to share my videos on The Internet of Experiences. The following is a video I made two years ago that shows how RFID and NFC cell phones can be used to transform and personalize consumer products: http://bit.ly/fJ7FuV.

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  6. Hey Kevin – where’d you buy the NFC tags? -jason

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    1. Amazon is your friend. ;)

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      1. So now I need to figure out if my Lumia 920 can do some of these cool behavior changes with NFC tags.

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  7. This article is clearly a load of . . .. Apple told everyone that there was no use at all yet for NFC, and that’s why they left it out of the iPhone 5. ;-)

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  8. Kevin – great article and video, especially since I struggle to find things to do with NFC as of yet.

    I’m curious as to how you feel NFC compares with apps like Locale, Tasker, or Motorola’s Smart Actions, which let you automate certain functions based on triggers such as location, time, or calendar events. I detailed my Locale setup a while back: http://rickycadden.com/2011/06/how-i-use-locale-to-automate-my-android/

    I’d love to hear your thoughts on how your setup compares.

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    1. Thanks Ricky and nice write up! Honestly, there’s a bunch of overlap between NFC actions and apps such as Tasker/Local/Smart Actions. I think this gets into personal preference as most solutions can be done either way. I could (and have) used Tasker to shut off Wi-Fi when my GPS radio notes that I’ve left the house, but I’d rather not leave my GPS on all the time. So for me, an NFC solution is more appealing.

      Then again, the idea that the phone is “smart” enough to recognize where it is and then take pre-prgrammed actions is impressive. And for some, it will beat out the need to swipe a phone near an NFC tag, which is “dumb” by comparison. Ideally, I like the fact that we have so many choices on how to implement these actions and don’t feel there is a “right” way to do so.

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      1. Sandeep Singh Thukral Friday, November 30, 2012

        Kevin, I use a combination of software (Tasker style and NFC). Each can do a good job that the other one can not.
        For tasks that are time-based or another action-based, I use a free app Automatelt (https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=AutomateIt.mainPackage&hl=en) that does some amazing things. Like launch the train app at specific times of the day. Or reset the music and call volumes every time the headphones are connected (Android does not differentiate between call/music volumes on speaker and that on the headphones, like I remember Apple iPod used to do).

        For changing multiple phone settings at specific locations (and at an unpredictable time) without bleeding the battery dry, the NFC chips are the best solution I can think of.

        For those buying the chips in Europe, I orders mine from RapidNFC. I bought the NTAG type chips (NTAG203)

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  9. “the NFC tags and software I started to use seem limited to Samsung phones and there appear to various tag standards”
    Samsung Tectiles are Mifare Classic type nfc tags. Your phone needs an NXP nfc controller chip to support this type. More and more phones will have controller chips from other suppliers. (Windows 8 phones only support NDEF formatted mifare tags.) Avoid classic type, buy the better NTAG type. No, I don’t sell them ;-) .
    For much more info about nfc tags.

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  10. Stephen Scanlon Thursday, November 29, 2012

    Kevin,
    Was so disappointed in not being able to view the video. My chromebook and note2 will not play flash videos. Since these are also your tools of choice, I’m surprised you didn,t notice it.

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    1. Stephen, I’m watching the video now on the Chromebook, so that should work. ChromeOS supports Flash. As far as the Galaxy Note 2, that is an issue and it has to do with our content provider. I actually embed HTML5 code for the video, but if the provider sees Android as the client, it assumes Flash and delivers it so. Obviously, that’s not good since Android has moved away from Flash of late and we’re looking at how to resolve. I apologize.

      In the meantime, you can catch the video here; we upload ‘em all to our YouTube channel: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JIG4PvMAXmU

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  11. Hey Kevin, thanks a lot for the video. I had no clue you can do all this stuff with a Samsung Galaxy. As an iPhone owner who is seriously considering an Android as his next phone, this helps a lot. Cheers, Andi

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    1. Glad to help, Andi! That’s one of the attractive bits around Android – you can often access much of the system functionality as needed. Not saying it’s better than iOS, but it’s certainly different out of the box in that respect.

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  12. Kevin, I enjoyed your article. There are numerous other applications for NFC tags and cell phones. I think that there are huge opportunities in consumer-based advertising using RFID technology. This is a wide-open field that transforms consumer products into personalized trophies. In this process, customers interact with RFID-tagged products. Using cell phones, they individualize items by writing links to personal memories, music, photos, and videos directly onto consumer products. At a latter point in time, they are able to instantly recall, display, and share their experiences through NFC interactions. Since the information resides on their cell phone, the customer is able to broadcast their consumer reviews, opinions, and stories to the global community via email, SMS, and social networks such as Twitter, Foursquare, and Facebook. In response, companies reward consumers who are efficient in sharing their experiences with free coupons, food, drinks, and music. Look for NFC consumer-based advertising products in the near future. The following is a video I made two years ago that shows how RFID tags and NFC cell phones can be used to record and share consumer experiences (RFID fishing, travel, and dining) from a personalized Christmas wreath: http://bit.ly/eruQRN.

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