Have any of you heard of “near field communication“? It’s a method of sending data between devices across a very short distance, measured in centimeters. Currently, NFC applications are mostly found with smartphones.

Practical uses of NFC include touching two smartphones together to transfer data, using a smartphone to transmit payment data for purchases, or using NFC tags to execute commands or send data to smartphones. In the first case, you might think this was done before with something called the “Bump” app. That app did not rely on NFC technology, as data was actually sent through the Internet. NFC does not rely on a physical network between the two devices, its data is sent wirelessly and directly.

The third example is an interesting one and something that can be experimented with by normal people like you and I. NFC tags are small circuits that contain a small amount of memory. They are not powered and they can be printed on stickers for placement almost anywhere. You can program NFC tags with bits of information. When an NFC-enabled smartphone comes close to a tag, it will then receive all the info from that tag. There are many uses for such tags. Advertisers can send URLs to people for their products or services. A more interesting application is to use the tags to execute commands on your smartphone. People can program tags so that they can automatically send a preset text to someone, start a timer, configure a sound profile (no ringtone, vibration only), or turn Bluetooth on.

Because I was curious, I bought some blank NFC tags so that I can program a few for experimentation. I can use my phone, a Galaxy Nexus, to program the tags. Using an app, I can configure the tag to do whatever I want on my phone. My initial thoughts are to program two tags and place them near my front door of my home. One tag I’ll use on my way out, which will disable wi-fi and turn on my mobile data. Another tag I’ll use when I get back home, which will enable wi-fi and turn off my mobile data. It’s simple but a start. Other people have tags in their car which turns on Bluetooth so their phones can communicate with their vehicle systems. I might have a tag at work that will turn the ring volume down to 50% and activate vibration.

I’m eager to find out what other things I can do with tags. If you’re interested, almost every current smartphone has NFC technology in it, with the huge exception of iPhones. So if you’re Apple fan, you’ll need to sit this one out for now.

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