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Summary:

NFC sounded like it would be the central solution for digital wallets but that bet hasn’t paid off yet. Instead, NFC is finding far more success as a way to pair phones with wireless speakers, printers and even automobiles.

hyundai, NFC
photo: Hyundai

NFC, or Near Field Communication, radios may be better device pairing tools than they are digital wallets. At least, that’s how it appears based on how people are using it. The technology gained some awareness as the wireless radio behind Google Wallet in 2011 but is seeing more success in the market as a simple way to wirelessly connect two devices.

HID Global, NFC

I was reminded of that by Samsung’s newest product announced on Thursday.

The company claims to have the first NFC-enabled color laser printer and multi-function printers. Instead of needing a direct wired connection to the printers or looking for them on a network, you can simply place your NFC-enabled smartphone or tablet on the printer to pair the two. Print data is then sent wirelessly through Wi-Fi Direct. You can even scan a document and send it electronically back to a smartphone using this method.

This is just the most recent example of NFC and simple device pairing. And it is simple; much more so than getting two Bluetooth devices to talk to each other. The difference is one of physicality.

Bluetooth radios have a range of 10 meters or more so anyone in that radius could theoretically attempt to pair their device with one of yours over Bluetooth. That’s why when you pair Bluetooth devices, you’re provided with a simple PIN to authenticate the connection. But the “N” in NFC stands for near and that makes all the difference: Why require a PIN when two devices are placed within an inch or two of each other?

I’ve noticed many more wireless accessories using NFC as the pairing method, and nearly all of them use Bluetooth technology for data transmission. Essentially, NFC is replacing the Bluetooth connection method in these devices which still use traditional radio technologies — both Bluetooth and Wi-Fi — to transmit music, video, pictures or other data.

Need more examples? The SOL Republic Deck speaker for Motorola’s Moto X (see our phone review here) is one.

deck wireless speaker

Sony’s SBH20 Stereo Bluetooth Headset is another that uses NFC to pair the headphones to a handset. In fact, Sony is adding NFC to some of its HDTV sets to allow simple pairing between a mobile device and the TV in order to facilitate wireless media streams from the small screen to the big one. And Hyundai is looking at using your NFC-enabled smartphone as the keys to your car.

NFC could still find a home as the basis for a digital wallet. For now though, investments in NFC as a simple pairing tool are starting to pay off and the radios will likely start filtering down into mobile devices at every price range.

  1. In one of the Android forums I am a member of, someone else has an NFC tag on their router which allows friends to sign in to the network. I envisioned that as a future Samsung commercial, where the friend with the iPhone is left out.

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    1. That’s pretty slick. I’ve played with the Samsung TecTiles and you can do quite a bit with them to fire off tasks or actions. I have one tag near the door to my house: When I leave home, I swipe the phone over it to enable GPS and disable Wi-Fi. Returning home to swipe again reverses the process. Neat stuff! :)

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    2. I also tried that, seemed like a great idea, but sadly for it to work properly my friends needed the same NFC tag reader app on their devices that I had used to program the tag.

      In practice, when they tried to pair with my router by NFC it just opened the play store at the tag reader app page, since the mobile connection is sooo bad where I live (hence the need for them to use wifi) it turned out to be easier to just give them the password :-( .

      If Android came with a standard NFC tag reader/writer then I guess we’d all be able to play nicely!

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  2. I have an NFC sticker on my cheapie $15 car dock that automatically launches Car Dock Ultra, which has its own other set of rules. It works brilliantly.

    I’ve also developed a personal rule that any Bluetooth speaker has to have NFC for pairing – I hate trying to switch the connection between my phone and tablet, and NFC eliminates that.

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  3. I do not need another radio, I can pair with BLE which is BT 4.0 in App!

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  4. The two simple, obvious, and elegant NFC use cases that I am still waiting for:

    Pairing with Bluetooth services in cars. I spend a bunch of time in rental cars and learning their car makers UX to pair is time consuming. Also, I often see folks not talking handsfree in cars that I know have Bluetooth as a standard feature. Tap is easy for everyone, everytime.

    Dialing conference room speakerphones. I use our conference room speakerphones everyday. All of the numbers I want to call are in my phone. Seems obsolete that a human still has to translate a name to a number. Select, tap, talk!

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