What Can NFC Do For Me?

by Sandra Henshaw - , Last Updated on December 5, 2014, How To Guides

Heard the term NFC and got no idea what people are talking about? Not to worry, it’s pretty new tech, and we’re here to tell you everything that you need to know. If you’ve got a top end smart phone then chances are that you’ve already got NFC, but whether or not you’re using it is a different matter. So if you want to know more about this potentially life changing technology, then read on!

What is NFC?

NFC stands for Near Field Communication. The tech jargon isn’t really necessary, all you need to know is that it’s a way for two devices to communicate with each other. It’s kind of like Bluetooth, in that NFC allows your phone to “talk” to another device. However, unlike Bluetooth you don’t need any codes or even need to approve the communication.

All that NFC requires is for your phone to be NFC enabled, then held within a couple of centimetres of the device that you want to talk to. It’s really that simple. It’s sort of the same as a chip card that can be read by a scanner, maybe like the one you use to get into your office. And NFC has the potential to be pretty life changing…

Sharing Info

The most widespread use of NFC right now is for data sharing. If you’ve got an NFC enabled phone and so does your friend, then you can send a picture or file simply by touching your phone to your friend’s. No emailing, no SMSing, no using a cable. That’s pretty convenient, but NFC has the potential to do an awful lot more…

Digital Payments

The real drive behind the development of NFC was a desire to create a digital payment system. This theoretically means that you could leave your house with only your phone, no wallet, no credit card, no cash. Initially, developers wanted to connect NFC directly to your bank account or credit card, though enthusiasm for this idea has waned. After all, no one wants a phone thief that has direct access to their bank or credit card, right?

What is in the process of happening instead is the development of digital wallets. Google and Apple have both released digital wallets, and these work in sort of the same way as a pay as you go phone account works. You load credit into your digital wallet, and then when you pay for an item using NFC money is subtracted from your digital wallet balance.

The plan is that in the future no matter where you go to shop, whether that’s a supermarket, a high street store or McDonald’s, when you get to the check out, all you’ll need to do is tap your phone against a sensor and you’ll have paid. Sweet and simple.

No, There’s Still More…

Digital payments add yet another level of convenience to NFC, but the technology can do still more. You can potentially use your phone as your bus ticket or tube ticket by tapping it against a sensor on a bus or at the station. Again, pretty nice. Or you can use it as a loyalty card, since it can record data and apply discounts. Rather than having your little cardboard slip stamped at Starbucks to get your tenth coffee for free, instead you’ll just scan your phone.

But since NFC can store data it can also be used to record things like your shopping habits, for example. This could mean that you get personalised messages from your local supermarket telling you that the chocolate you love is on sale this week. Or a message from your local garage telling you it’s time to come in and have an oil change.

There’s also the potential to “tag” items with an NFC code. Sort of like a QR code, posters or other items could be equipped with an NFC tag, and you bump your phone against the tag to get more info. That could be a timetable on a bus shelter, or a web address, or even information about a painting or a building or other educational things.

The Logistics…

Clearly, NFC does have a lot of potential, but it’s not yet totally available. There aren’t many places in the UK that will allow you to pay using NFC, though more and more outlets are jumping on the bandwagon. Orange was the first UK mobile operator to launch digital payments, but its use is pretty limited. You’re going to be waiting a wee while yet before you can leave your house without your wallet.

NFC tech on phones on the other hand has become pretty common. It’s rare that a top end mobile doesn’t have NFC capability, and all the big names including the iPhone 6 and the Samsung Galaxy S5 are equipped with NFC.

The main question that most consumers have about using NFC is whether or not it’s a secure payment system, and the answer to that is probably yes, depending on how you use it. If you’re putting credit into a digital wallet and your phone gets stolen, then the thief can only spend as much credit as you have. In the same way as if your wallet is stolen you can only have the cash you have inside it nicked.

That’s not to say that there won’t be technological problems, however. Hackers and viruses see NFC transactions as prime targets, and if credit card companies and banks decide to start using NFC then there are going to have to be some serious protection limits put into place.

NFC could well be the future of data transfer, and might mean no more cash. That day is a long way away, however, especially here in the UK. For the time being, NFC is a quick and easy way to send that snap to your mate’s phone, but in the future who knows what we’ll be doing? One thing’s for sure: NFC is not a tech gimmick, and it’s not something that you should overlook if you’re thinking about investing in a new mobile. There’s every chance that you’ll be needing that NFC capability…