Programmable NFC Tags: You’re Not Using Them, But You Should Be!

by Dan Forster - , Last Updated on July 9, 2015, How To Guides

NFC, or Near Field Communication, has been standard on top end and mid range phones for a while now. This is the tech that’s eventually (or even currently in some places) going to let you use mobile payment systems. In very basic terms, NFC is simply a way for your phone to communicate with another device, a cash register, for example. But there is another use for NFC, digital payments aside. One huge benefit of using NFC is that you can use it in conjunction with NFC tags. What are these? How do they work? Why would you want them anyway? That’s what we’re here to find out, so be prepared for some awesome (and pretty easy) geekery…

What are NFC Tags?

Okay, it’s going to make things a lot simple if we explain how to install and use NFC tags before we get to why you’d want to, and you’ll understand why in a little while. For now, all you need to know is that an NFC tag is a small, plastic disk that contains data for your phone to read. You can place these disks anywhere and tap your phone against them to read the data.

What Do I Need?

You’ll need two things (well, four including apps, but two physical things). First up you’ll need an NFC enabled Android phone. Some Windows phones also include NFC, but iPhones, whilst the 6 models have NFC, are not currently capable of supporting tags, so it’s pretty much going to be Android. You’ll need to head into the settings menu of your phone and check under the wireless and networks option to make sure that NFC is turned on.

The second thing you’re going to need is some NFC tags. Some phone manufacturers do make them, but you don’t have to have ones from the same maker as your phone. Your best bet is to check on sites like Amazon, and you should be able to get some for just a couple of pounds. So far, so good.

Now What?

Now you’re going to need to write some data onto your NFC tag or tags, as well as make sure that your phone can read that data and act on it. This part is dead simple, and you’ll need to download two apps. Firstly, you’ll need to get an app that will allow you to programme your tag. Something like NFC Tools is a good choice, but there are plenty of appropriate apps available in the Play Store.

Don’t be put off by the word “programme.” We’re not talking high level computer programming here, we’re simply talking about instructions. You’ll be able to input simple sentences into the tag for your phone to read, and we’ll talk in a few minutes about what kind of sentences you might want to think about.

The second app that you’re going to need is one that will allow your phone to read the tag’s data and translate it into an action. If you choose to install NFC Tools, then NFC Tasks is a brother app that compliments the programming app very well.

Once your NFC tag is programmed, you can mount it anywhere you like, and as long as NFC is switched on on your mobile you simply need to tap your phone against the tag. That’s it. As you can see, using NFC tags is pretty simple, but why would you want to add just another level of tech to your home?

But WHY?!

The possibilities of NFC tags are pretty amazing. Say, for example, you like to eat a three minute boiled egg in the morning for breakfast. If you programme a tag to “set a three minute timer” and then mount that tag next to your stove, you can put that egg in, tap your phone on the tag, and three minutes later your phone alarm will go off. Neat, right? No messing around, just a tap and you’re good to go. You can do the same for bedtime alarms too.

Or maybe you’re sick of huge mobile phone bills, but always forget to turn WiFi on when you get home. Simple. Programme a tag to “switch on WiFi,” mount it next to your door, and tap your phone as you come in. Magic.

Get a lot of visitors that want to take advantage of your super fast home WiFi? Then programme a tag with your WiFi name and password and all a guest needs to do is tap his or her phone to get online. Pair your mobile with a Bluetooth device in the car? Programme a tag to turn on Bluetooth and stick it in your vehicle.

You even have the option to lock tags, meaning that no one else can re-programme them, or leave them open. Potentially, this means that your partner could leave messages for you on a tag close to the door for you to receive when you get home. The uses for NFC tags are limited only by your imagination.

The Downsides?

Honestly, there really are no downsides. NFC tags are cheap, and they’re also small (just slightly bigger than a 50p piece) so you’re not mounting something huge to your wall or desk. And we’ll be the first to admit that we’re a little geeky over here, but programming and using these tags is super easy and simple, a child could literally do it, we swear. Plus, tags don’t use batteries or need to be plugged in, so they’ll last indefinitely. In order to get power, a tag simply uses a little of your phone’s power when you tap.

We’re pretty sure that most of you out there aren’t using NFC tags right now, and that’s a shame. Tags shouldn’t be limited to us geeks, they’re awesome, useful and simple to use. If you’re looking to make your life a little more efficient, or even a little more fun (switching on your music with a tap as you enter the living room is pretty cool, right?) then you really need to look into NFC tags. For such a small investment, they’re really worth experimenting with…