NFC technology has long been in a catch-22, or chicken-or-egg, situation. Why implement NFC in phones when no products supported it and vice-versa? However, with over 0.5 billion NFC enabled high-end smart phones in use today, this issue has been firmly resolved. These phones are now driving a massive market in which an increasing number of companies are developing exciting NFC enabled products and systems for both consumers and professionals.
NFC is an amazing technology that allows a powered device (the ‘reader’, e.g. in a smart phone) to read information from, or write information to another device (the ‘tag’). The tag device may or may not be powered, because the powered device can even power the passive device wirelessly.
Initial adoption of NFC by the smart phone industry was influenced by emerging mobile payment systems like Google Wallet or PayPass, which allow the phone to be used for payments. As a consequence we now start to see NFC payment terminals in shops, NFC enabled vending machines and automatic fare collection systems for public transport. Some products use the phone itself as the mobile payment terminal.
Now that NFC functionality is out there in so many smart phones, applications that use the functionality for other purposes have started to pop up all around us.
Smart pairing and connectivity
One group of applications uses the simplicity of NFC to pair Bluetooth accessories to phones: speakers, head-sets, sensors, health or body monitoring devices, in-car infotainment systems and, increasingly, wearables.
Another new trend is to use NFC enabled phones to commission nodes in more complex networks like WiFi, ZigBee and other home and building automation networks. Tapping a phone or an NFC enabled gateway with the device to be networked is sufficient to transfer network and security data and get it working immediately. You can see how it works in this NXP demo.
In other applications, NFC allows products to use the elegant and intuitive user interface of the smart phone instead of having their own. Products like printers and smart meters will soon have an NFC interface instead of a limited set of buttons and a tiny display.
And this will not be limited to consumer applications, many industrial devices in the Internet of Things will be intelligent, software based and equipped with sensors. These devices will have no user interfaces, but need configuration, calibration and diagnostics. NFC will take care of all that at the touch of a phone.
Secure connections to the cloud
Still other applications use NFC to connect to the internet using the phone as gateway. A good example is the electronic door lock that determines your access rights by connecting to the cloud through the phone that touches them. At the same time the phone may be used to distribute (qualified) access rights to other users through the internet.
Service calls for home appliances will be made in future by touching the appliance with your phone. This will collect the results of various diagnostic tests and send them to the manufacturer’s service center.
A very exciting class of applications revolves around the possibility of writing information into unpowered products using NFC. Say you are a manufacturer of washing machines and ship them to various countries that need different menu languages. NFC can be used to write configuration information into an unpowered NFC tag in the appliance just before shipment. When the appliance is started for the first time at its destination, it will read the configuration data from the tag and act accordingly. The same principle could be used in many other consumer and industrial products.
Nor will active NFC devices only be found in phones. Ovens will have NFC devices that can read recipe’s from tagged food packaging. Some countries have started to equip smart meters with NFC devices that can read pre-payment cards for electricity.
These are just some of the exciting new applications being enabled by NFC. More and more companies are discovering the market opportunities that NFC is offering. Have you considered what NFC can do for your product?