Five ways to use NFC on your smartphone

Five ways to use NFC on your smartphone

That fancy NFC feature on your smartphone is more than just a bullet point on the spec sheet. Here's how you can use it to make your life easier and score some cool content.

If you have a mid- to high-end smartphone that’s less than a year old – and it’s not an iPhone – there’s a good chance it has NFC built-in. You’ll be hearing a lot more about this technology this year as companies like Sony, Samsung and LG build it into a wider range of consumer products. 

But first, what is NFC? It’s short for Near Field Communication, and consists of a set of close-range wireless communication standards that enable devices to transfer small amounts of data to each other. If you have a new(ish) credit card with a ‘PayPass’ or ‘PayWave’ logo, then you may have used NFC already to pay for items at the till. 

Credit cards are the most prevalent use of NFC, but it’s far from the only application. Here are five ways you can make use of it on your smartphone.

Pass music off to an NFC-equipped Bluetooth speaker
Here’s the scenario: you’re listening to music through headphones on your way home. Once you arrive, you want to hear the same music out loud so the rest of the house can appreciate your fine taste, so you simply tap your smartphone against an NFC-equipped Bluetooth speaker, and it seamlessly starts playing from there. 

Sounds like the stuff of science fiction, but it’s not. One of NFC’s cool little tricks is that it can do away with all the drudgery of setting up a Bluetooth connection. You know, turning it on, making the devices discoverable, scanning for devices, putting in a password, etc. NFC lets you pair two compatible devices just by tapping them against each other, and this works a treat for connecting to a Bluetooth speaker. 

There aren’t too many of them on the market at the moment – Nokia, JBL and Sony are the main players in this space. The most widely available speaker is the older (and hence, cheaper) Nokia Play 360, a battery-powered omnidirectional speaker with a list price of $149.95. Despite the Nokia branding, it works with any smartphone that supports Bluetooth pairing over NFC. It also uses a Nokia mobile phone battery, making it cheap to stock up on spares. 

Connect to NFC-equipped Bluetooth headphones
This is the same deal as with Bluetooth speakers – you can just tap your smartphone and headphones together to send music to the latter device. There are a few more NFC-equipped Bluetooth headphones available than there are speakers; as well as the usual suspects Nokia and Sony, Parrot has its high-end Zik wireless headphones designed by renowned industrial designer Philip Starck. 

Configure your device with NFC tagsSony and Samsung both offer configurable NFC tags that you can use to accomplish a variety of tasks on your smartphone. The idea is that you can have various tags at key locations to do things like set your morning alarm (good for the bedside table), switch on car mode and GPS (ideal for your car’s dashboard), and put on your favourite music playlist (perhaps for next to your front door?). The Samsung TecTiles are available for $14.95 in packs of five from Dick Smith, while Sony’s Xperia SmartTags are available in packs of four for $17.95 from the Sony Store. 

Share files
Google built NFC file sharing into Android 4.0 with a feature called ‘Android Beam’. Think of it as the new-age version of infrared, only it works over Bluetooth; once you turn it on in the settings (it’s usually off by default), you can share contacts, YouTube clips, webpages, Play Store links to apps, and directions in maps or navigation. 

To get it working, you’ll need to have the relevant content open on your screen. Then, tap the back of your smartphone against the back of the other smartphone, and you’ll feel both devices vibrate. Depending on what the content is, the receiver may get a pop-up dialogue box asking whether they want to accept it. 

If you’re both running Android 4.1 (at a minimum), you’ll also be able to send photos and videos through the Gallery app. You can even select multiple photo and/or video files to send by selecting them before you bump the phones together. 

Samsung has a special form of NFC file sharing called S-Beam that uses Wi-Fi Direct instead of Bluetooth. The benefit is that file transfers happen a lot quicker, as Wi-Fi has more bandwidth than Bluetooth, making it a good option for transferring large video files. The downside is that it only works with Samsung Galaxy devices that have NFC built-in, like the Galaxy S3 and the Note 2. 

Download extra content from billboards
More and more advertisers are using NFC in their billboards for promotional purposes. Telstra is one company that’s used it quite a lot in the past for things like enabling customers to recharge their prepaid mobile accounts, getting a free trial of the MOG music streaming service, and downloading apps. The New South Wales Government has added NFC tags (as well as QR codes) to 37 tourist spots in The Rocks to enable visitors to get more information, and the posters for the new Zero Dark Thirty have an NFC tag that lets users download a trailer for the movie.

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