Tap to pay at Starbucks; easier aiming at the drive-through
We’ve been waiting for the NFC chips we’ve had in credit cards for a few years to make it into phones so we can use them for payments; that’s starting to happen with Google Wallet, Apple Passbook, Microsoft Wallet and initiatives from banks, carriers and companies like Square. This is the year that tapping to pay with your phone will really happen (probably). In the meantime, businesses like Starbucks have introduced payment apps using QR codes that you display on the phone screen and scan to pay. What’s better about NFC? You’ll have a single wallet rather than multiple apps and you won’t have to position your phone precisely in front of the scanner; NFC stands for near-field communication and near is anything up to a couple of inches. Paying through the car window at a drive-through will be quite a bit easier. But NFC can do a lot more too.
Coupons, memberships and everything else that makes your wallet bulge
NFC can do things a credit card can’t. When phones get wireless charging, you won’t have to fill out long forms on screen to unlock a mobile charging point; it can have an NFC tag you put your phone down on that triggers a billing dialog you can accept on screen to start the power flowing. But NFC isn’t just about making payments; with the right software at both ends, you can do much more, like redeeming coupons. Your phone could be your library card and your gym membership and the hotel loyalty card you never remember to carry. If there’s a recipe on the side of a packet, the list of ingredients could be stored on an NFC tag you tap your phone on to add them to your shopping list.
Easier peripheral pairing
Pairing a Bluetooth keyboard in Windows 8 is fairly simple once you read the tiny instructions on the back and hold down the button for (in this case) seven seconds – of course that’s a different button and a different time for every single Bluetooth peripheral. With NFC you could tap an NFC-enabled peripheral on an NFC-enabled computer and see a pairing dialog on screen without having to do the Vulcan death grip on the device first.
See the ad, get the app
QR codes are a much easier way to download an app you see advertised than typing in a URL or opening the app store and searching (where you might or might not find the app you had in mind). NFC tags will work the same way except you won’t need a code big enough to register on screen and you don’t have to open the camera or search app and get the code in focus – you just tap. If it’s a device like a pedometer or scanner that needs an app, it’s easier to put an NFC tag in it than print a QR code on a tiny plastic surface.
Tap the DVD to see the trailer
Just like the QR codes you see on posters and souvenir programs that link to an online video, NFC tags could trigger your phone to play the trailer for the film and they’re better for things like DVD cases where you wouldn’t have to worry about taking up space for the QR code or distortion from the shrink-wrap making it hard to read. If you have NFC in your computer or TV, you could tap your phone on it to watch the trailer on a bigger screen when you get home – or even add it to your Netflix queue.
Tap to play – without ripping the CD
Tapping on an NFC tag to play music is easy if you’re just streaming it from an online service, but Google has bigger plans. The Nexus Q has an NFC tag that’s used today to pair the Android phones that can control the playlist, but the vision is that if Google had a music subscription service, you could tap your phone on an NFC tag on a CD cover to add it to your library and then tap it again to start playing it through the Nexus Q’s speakers.
Tap to sync or play together
Once you have NFC in two devices, you can use that to send one-off information (sync all my music over Wi-Fi but let me tap when I want to load a file I downloaded on my phone onto my PC), or to start a game on both devices. So when I challenge you to a word game, instead of sending messages back and forth when we’re sitting next to another, I can tap my phone against your tablet and NFC will invite us both into the game.
You’ll only need one business card
NFC tags are small and cheap enough that you could put them in your business cards, so that instead of languishing in a pocket or box on someone’s desk, your details would actually make it into their address book and they might contact you. Microsoft’s Joe Belfiore demonstrates tapping an NFC business card on a Windows Phone 8 handset; the details show on screen, ready to save. You might even get the business card back after your new contact scans it!
Switch personalities at home
One feature we miss from WebOS and the HP TouchPad. If you had more than one Touchstone dock the TouchPad used NFC to tell them apart. You could pick a different picture to show or a different set of apps to run on screen at home and at work while you were enjoying no-cable wireless charging; say, your calendar at work, family photos in the den and an alarm clock beside the bed.
No more transit passes
A transit pass you can reload with money is more convenient than a ticket you buy every day, until you lose it. More and more transit systems will switch from tickets that get scanned to passes you tap to open a gate, like the Oystercard system in London. And then it’s just a step to scanning your phone instead of your pass. US Bus company Stagecoach is trying out NFC phone tickets on some routes it operates in the UK and New Jersey Transit is testing NFC tickets with Google Wallet on various train and bus routes, including Newark Airport.
Have they got it in my size?
QR codes are in a lot of store windows these days (this is an empty store in Detroit turned into a virtual window for high-end watches), but switching to the camera or a QR reading app is one more step. With NFC you just have to get your phone close and you don’t have to be able to see the tag. Stores won’t take the time to print a large QR code for everything in a window display but if you can read the NFC tag for the jacket you like the look of you could see what other colors it comes in or check if your size is in stock before you go inside.
Get the model number of your appliance
Want to order spare parts, order a new manual or book a repair? You’ll need to know the exact model of your dishwasher or washing machine; first find the illegible metal plate or tiny sticker on the edge of the door or behind the unit, then read off a sixteen digit code. If your appliance had NFC in, you could tap with your phone to get the details; you could look up the manual online or check diagnostics (like how long since you actually emptied the lint filter, which might save on maintenance calls in the first place). That would also work with products on show in the store; you could look up the manual or reviews for the exact model you’re considering buying.
Pick the right wash cycle
Once you’ve cut out the tag, do you remember whether that jacket washes as easy care or delicates? For that matter, some modern washing machines have enough controls for a small airplane. An NFC tag in a button could set the right washing program for the clothes they’re sewn on to as you load the washer.
Track your vital signs
The Basis Band will pick up your heart rate from your wrist; in the future sensors could check your blood glucose level without you sticking a needle into your finger. With sensors like that, remembering to take your sensors off and upload your readings becomes the hardest part of monitoring yourself. The Fitbit pedometer already uses a low-power radio to upload data whenever you’re in range of the tiny base station; NFC would work well for small medical devices because it doesn’t need a lot of room.
Speed through security at the airport
NFC might speed up the security line at the airport. Toulouse airport in France ran a trial earlier this year using NFC enabled BlackBerry handsets to let 50 frequent travellers get into a dedicated car park, a priority security lane and then an exclusive airport lounge. That could work with a system like TSA Pre, a service you sign up for to get in a faster security line where you don't have to take your shoes off or pull out your laptop; currently the details are in a barcode on your boarding pass, but if your boarding pass is on your phone, NFC would work better.
Check your electricity meter
If you’re trying to cut down on the power you use, you can get gadgets that send you the details of the power you’re using in real time, but connecting them to your meter isn’t always easy (simpler devices attach to the meter but then you have to go out and read them). With NFC in the meter, you can use your phone to read your meter (and so can the utility company, without nosy neighbours or burglars casing the joint being able to see if you’re home and using power); you could use the same NFC chip to connect power monitors more easily.
Never lose your hotel key
If you have a security fob to get into the building at work, you’re already using NFC to open doors. Yale is bringing out NFC locks you could put on your own front door, so as long as you don’t leave your phone and your keys behind, you can always get back into the house. But we’ll probably see NFC locks on hotel rooms first. Hotels won’t have to pay for lost keys or make you wait while they program a keycard at the registration desk. Join the hotel loyalty program and the hotel can send the key to your phone when you’re due to arrive and you can go straight up and start on the minibar.
Spot the real Gucci bag
When stores switch from barcodes on price tags to NFC, you could scan products yourself. For luxury goods like watches and handbags, an anti-counterfeiting app on your phone could look up the bag to make sure it’s an original. NFC tags are small and light so they could be sewn into the bag itself, rather than put in packaging that could be re-used for another bag.
Touch your credit card
NFC in your credit card could also tell when your finger is touching it, just like the touchscreen on your phone. For extra security, you could sign your name or draw a password right on your credit card – like creating a Picture Password in Windows 8 - to unlock the card before you tap to make a payment.
Get a grip
The information carried by NFC doesn’t have to be data; the fingers of this robot (built by research teams at Intel) use NFC to sense what the object it’s about to touch is made of. In tests, it could tell the difference between an egg and a cup or an apple and a human hand, and then work out how hard or how gently to grip it. That should make unpacking the shopping less messy.