Smartphones are no longer just fancy mobile devices that let you e-mail and surf the Web. A contemporary smartphone has more computing power than all of the computers that were at NASA's disposal back in 1969 when the United States first landed on the moon [source: PC Mag]. Although you probably won't use your phone to control your own lunar lander anytime soon, it will likely do all sorts of other nifty stuff, like replace your wallet, thanks to NFC (near-field communication) technology.
The beauty and utility of NFC -- a short-range, wireless communication standard -- can be summed up in three primary purposes: sharing, pairing and transactions. NFC can turn your phone into a digital wallet, become a master key for everything from your house to your car, or serve as a government or corporate identification badge. And that's just for starters. Check out a whole swath of other nifty uses at NFC Rumor's sprawling infographic.
The possibilities for NFC tech are limited only by the imaginations of clever engineers and programmers. And because of its vast range of uses, the revolution is starting with your phone.
Armed with these tiny chips, smartphones are about to graduate from smart to downright brainiac status. Right now, only about 34 million phones have NFC, but some experts think that number will blow past 100 million in 2012 [source: USA Today]. Keep reading and you'll see how NFC phones and other gadgets could transform your tech-driven life.
NFC Pays Your Way
Chuck your cash in the trash and snip every last credit card into itty bitty pieces. With NFC, your smartphone becomes an ATM machine and credit device all in one. Instead of counting cash or swiping a card, you'll just wave your phone at a payment kiosk to complete a transaction and receive an email receipt instead of paper one.
Of all of the capabilities that NFC may bring to fruition, payment options are perhaps the likeliest to emerge soon. Executives at Google actually expect NFC smartphones to account for about 50 percent of the phone marketplace by 2014 [source: Popular Science], which would likely benefit its Google Wallet application. Google Wallet is a smartphone app that lets you wave your phone at a properly-equipped point-of-sale register to pay for all kinds of goods and services.
Other credit card companies and wireless service providers are working on similar systems to compete with Google. And it's that competition and lack of standardization, along with a lack of NFC-capable checkout systems at your local stores, that may delay the deployment of widespread NFC payment options.
Still, some pundits, including those at Juniper Research, expect that NFC transactions will hit around $50 billion by 2014 [source: Retail Merchandiser]. So be ready – your days of lugging around multiple plastic cards and a wad of paper money might just be numbered.
Data Grabbing Goodness
The chips and tags that an NFC-capable phone can read are so tiny that they could eventually be ubiquitous, embedded in everything from posters in movie theaters and schools to real estate signs, and much more. These so-called infotags or smart tags will offer up all sorts of information to anyone who waves a smartphone at them.
At a movie theater, patrons could touch their phones to a poster for an intriguing film and be instantly directly to an online trailer. Or at school, students could use their phones to grab updated information on schedules and announcements.
Strolling by a home that's for sale? Wiggle your phone at the real estate company's sign and your phone immediately brings up all pertinent sales information on that house, including a video tour of the interior.
The chips work even in places more of more permanent residence. A system called Personal Rosetta Stone that lets cemetery visitors pull information from chip-laden headstones to read the life stories and obituaries of the deceased [source: Rosetta Stone].
There are thousands of other applications for this technology, and smartphones will help drive the proliferation of NFC. But suffice it to say, your smartphone will only find more and more ways to gather information from your tech-saturated environment, no matter where on Earth you might be.
Chips are Good for Your Health
Don't let anyone tell you that chips are bad for you. When it comes to your health care, NFC tags and the smart devices that can read them may help make health care data more accurate, more efficient and safer for patients and their caregivers.
Forget the clunky, inefficient ER rooms of the past. Now, patients could check into medical facilities using their phones, tap their prescription bottles for all instructions and side effects for a specific medication and make payments for services and products.
Medical professionals can use their NFC phones to access secure areas, scan patient tags to ensure that each person is receiving appropriate medicine and care, and automatically receive updates on when to check that patient again.
And thanks to the quick spread of smartphones throughout the developing world, health workers can better identify patients and track specific ailments, both of which help improve patient referral, emergency response, and disease data collection. In an age where health authorities fear pandemics, NFC could put health workers ahead of their bacterial and viral foes.
You may get much better personal care, too. The more data your doctor collects on your environmental exposure and your body's idiosyncrasies, the more likely you'll receive accurate diagnoses. A company named Gentag makes diagnostic skin tags that are affixed directly to the patient. These tags can monitor temperature, glucose levels or ultraviolet light exposure and then send pertinent health information directly to a smartphone.
So really, chips really are good for you. NFC devices could save many lives, including yours, and improve the quality of life for people all over the globe.
A Legendary Digital Locksmith
You already know that your smartphone can replace your wayward billboard. It can also help you do away with your keys and security cards.
You don't really need a key to get into your car. Nor do you need that jagged bit of metal and plastic for engine ignition. All you really need is permission. And your NFC smartphone might soon be able to give you that permission. Just wave your phone to unlock your car; then tap the dash to fire up the engine.
When you arrive at work, you don't need to show your ID badge to a security guard. You don't even need your badge anymore, because your phone tells the NFC access point exactly who you are and unlocks the door for you.
Then, when arrive at home from a long day at the office you won't need to dig through your purse for your keys. Your phone will unlock your apartment or house door so that you can waltz in without even the need to twist a key.
So although many of the first uses of NFC will likely apply to intangible digital payments, these examples show how NFC can grant access to all sorts of real physical places. You'll have few items to carry with you, too -- just don't lose your smartphone in the couch cushions.
Your Friendly Network Facilitator
You already know that NFC is good for sharing and transactions. It's also a handy way to quickly pair two devices so that they can exchange information via higher-speed networks, and in this sense, NFC could be heaven-sent, doing away with convoluted encryption schemes and long-winded, clunky passwords.
For example, if you and your co-worker are stranded at an airport and want to play a team racing game on your smartphones, you won't have to deal with a tedious configuration process. Instead, you can just tap your phones, and the NFC connection will authenticate your phones and let you immediately share a faster type of connection, such as Bluetooth or WiFi.
Want to print a photo that's on your phone? Tap your smartphone to an NFC inkjet printer and you can quickly start the print job. Or skip the printer and place your phone right next to your smart HDTV, and watch as your images appear on the screen without the need to set up a connection.
Now you know some of the ways that NFC might just live up to its hype in the next few years. While you're anxiously awaiting these marvelous new technologies, you can stay up to date on the latest NFC news and speculation at NFC Rumors.com, which details the many products and services that will put the power of NFC to use.
You can also jump into the fray and find an NFC -capable phone using this handy list. These phones might be your first taste of a wireless standard that will likely wow you and millions of others with its capabilities for a long time to come.
Bluetooth technology allows electronic devices to communicate wirelessly. Learn about Bluetooth, Bluetooth headsets and how to link devices.
More Great Links
- Clark, Sarah. "NFC Medical Platform to Enable Self-Testing for Pregnancy, Fertility, Pathogens, AIDS, Drugs, Allergens, and Certain Types of Cancers." http://www.nfcworld.com/2011/01/17/35672/nfc-medical-self-testing-pregnancy-fertility-pathogens-aids-drugs-allergens-cancer/
- Corporate press release. "Entrust Uses Near-Field Communication, Bluetooth to Bring Enterprise Credentials, Management to Popular Mobile Devices." Sacbee.com. (Jan. 11, 2012) http://www.sacbee.com/2012/01/11/4179576/entrust-uses-near-field-communication.html
- Google FAQ. "Google Wallet." Google.com. http://www.google.com/wallet/faq.html#in-store
- Hornshaw, Phil. "MicroSD Card Will Give any Android Device Near Field Communications Capabilities." Androidapps.com. Jan. 11, 2012. http://www.androidapps.com/finance/articles/10737-microsd-card-will-give-any-android-device-near-field-communications-capabilities
- Nosowitz, Dan. "Everything You Need to Know about Near Field Communication." PopSci.com. Mar. 1, 2011. http://www.popsci.com/gadgets/article/2011-02/near-field-communication-helping-your-smartphone-replace-your-wallet-2010
- Thompson, Cadie. "Near Field Communications the Next Mobile Boost?" CNBC.com. Jan. 8, 2012. http://www.usatoday.com/tech/news/story/2012-01-08/cnbc-near-field-communication-mobile/52443756/1
- Whitney, Lance. "Square Vies with NFC for Mobile Payments." CNET.com. May 24, 2011. http://news.cnet.com/8301-1023_3-20065682-93.html
- Wortham, Jenna. "Google's Schmidt Sees Payment as a Big Business." New York Times. Feb. 15, 2011. http://bits.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/02/15/googles-schmidt-sees-payments-as-a-big-business/