Ok, you either already own an NFC-enabled smartphone, like the Google Nexus S or the Samsung Galaxy Nexus, or you might get one soon, like the recently announced Sony Ericsson Xperia S or Xperia ion, but the big question is what can you do with it? It really seems that 2012 might be the year of NFC and it's expected that the Android phones above won't stay the only one which support NFC but that other manufacturers will also follow as well as it's expected that Windows Phone Tango will also add support for NFC. But then again, the question is left what you can do with your NFC-enabled phone? Quite honestly, out of the box you can't do too much at the moment and it also depends on your location.
If you live in the U.S. and own a Google Nexus S, you can use Google Wallet to pay with your phone.
And while it seems that NFC payments will be a hot NFC topic for 2012, what's the use case for NFC if you neither live in the U.S., nor if you want to do mobile payments or don't own a Google Nexus S? Well, you are still not lost and there are still some smart usage scenarios left.
First of all Bluetooth pairing via NFC. This isn't anything new, Nokia had this for quite some time now, but the Bluetooth SIG and NFC Forum came to a formal agreement to cooperate on this topic; which hopefully brings NFC Bluetooth pairing to a wide range of accessories. As useful Bluetooth is, pairing two Bluetooth devices always was and still is a pain. With the agreement of the collaboration, it will be possible to use NFC to securely pair two Bluetooth devices without entering the PIN or looking around for discoverable Bluetooth devices.
This becomes even more handy nowadays where a lot of Bluetooth devices are discoverable, each using the original device name that it can be hard to find the device which belongs to you. However, even more important is the secure pairing without entering any PIN codes you might not know or have forgotten.
Another interesting, but pretty common case to use NFC for is exchanging business cards between two NFC enabled mobile phones. Also, I recently had a meeting where one person had NFC enabled paper business cards and all I had to do was brining my Galaxy Nexus close to the business card and seconds after I had all his contact details available on my phone.
Which brings me to the next topic - doing NFC stuff on your own. All the examples above, except the business card, require some additional services or hardware to use NFC but what can you do yourself with NFC? Well, I'm using NFC for a couple of cases to automate the one or the other task and Sony Ericsson described it quite wonderful with its recently announced SmartTags:
However, to do exactly these tasks, Nexus S and Galaxy Nexus owners have neither to wait for Sony Ericsson's, most likely expensive, NFC SmartTags but you can do this today already. All you need are some writeable NFC tags which you can get for some bucks online, the appropriate Android application and some fantasy what to do with the NFC tags.
Here are some examples I use some of the NFC tags above for.
For instance have I put an NFC tag into the car which turns off WiFi and turns on Bluetooth to make sure my device is always connected to my Bluetooth car kit while saving as much battery as possible by turning off WiFi:
I also put an NFC tag on my Sonos which turns on WiFi on my smartphone, connects it with my office WiFi and automatically launches the Sonos Android app which allows me to start listening music the moment I enter the office:
Furthermore I attached an NFC tag to my office bag which allows me to instantly turn on and off the device's flight mode without going through the Android menus:
I even put an NFC tag on my keyring. If lost and found, and hopefully read (most unlikely anyway but I'm a geek ;-), it allows the finder to send a text message to a number (which is for sure not affiliated with any of the keys):
Quite handy is the NFC tag I put on my MacBook Air. This tag is programmed to toggle my Galaxy Nexus' tethering and instead of flipping though the Ice Cream Sandwich menus, I simply bring my device close to the tag to turn Internet sharing on or off:
All the examples above only illustrate how I already use NFC in my personal environment today and what you could do as well. I'm sure, there are many more simple use cases.
However, there are even more things you can do with an NFC enabled phone; even if you don't have any writeable NFC tags but just NFC enabled credit cards or access cards. A friend of me is currently developing a very promising looking NFC game which can be played with any NFC tag, doesn't matter if it is programmable or readable only. I'll write about it as soon as I'm allowed.
You see, you can do your own stuff with NFC today already, doesn't matter if payment is out of your interest or not and I really hope, the NFC technology will bring some other smart use case, beside access controll and payment. These cases are so obvious but it will take some time that these will be massmarket. In the meantime, everybody could create his own example of use and the more smartphones will support NFC the better.
By the way, if you want to try similar profiles yourself and you have a couple of writeable NFC tags, I'm using "NFC Task Launcher" from the Android Market to write and execute tasks. It's sill somewhat buggy but okay. Happy tagging!
Cheers ~ Arne