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Welcome to the Near Field Communication News blog! My name is Nathan Drake and I am a freelance technology writer here in Toronto. What once was my interest is now my job, as I write for different publications about emerging technologies, writing reviews and commentaries about how these technologies might influence our lives in the future. I have decided to commit this blog to near field communication news and commentaries because, frankly, I’ve never reviewed or commented upon any emerging technology that I thought would have a more profound impact on our daily lives. I want to be part of the revolution, and since I’m not smart enough to actually program NFC technology, I’ll comment on it.

I was first introduced to near field communication about 8 months ago at a technology expo in Upstate New York. Oddly, I wasn’t that impressed by it. I couldn’t see the difference between it and QR codes, which I had been reporting on for years and am pleased to see them finally making their way into our everyday lives as more and more people possess the technology required to read them. The way I figured it, I already had something that I could hold up to something else and receive information and so what if NFC technology got rid of the little square thing you had to scan. They told me it would one day replace my wallet and I had a laugh to myself because I had been hearing this from Japanese companies for years and yet my wallet remained an integral part of my daily life. Technology companies have a way of overstating the societal impacts of their technology. 

A month or so passed and I saw an influx of articles online pouring in touting the many possible uses of NFC and how it would change my life forever. Now, I’m old enough to remember reading articles (I was in high school at the time) about how this thing called the Internet was going to change my life forever and that if I got involved it might be the way to millions. I was skeptical at the time. As it turns out, they were right and I went to college for English and now I make pennies as a writer… so I try to be a little less skeptical while maintaining a professional distance with these things. Well, if you haven’t already heard, near field communications will change your life and if you are so inclined it might be worth getting into it now. It might just make you millions and save you from a life of writing for pennies about stuff you were too blind to see to potential of before it took off. 

In this blog, I will be providing an informational resource as well as writing about how advancements in near field communication can and will affect your everyday life. I might be right. I might be wrong. But there’s one thing I won’t be… sitting silent on the sidelines while the world changes before our eyes.

What is Near Field Communication?

When I first saw a demonstration of Near Field Communication it took me some time before I realized the implications of it. I couldn’t see how holding a phone up to something and getting information was somehow better than just looking the information up through a search engine. I even wrote an article about how we were moving technologically laterally, with technologies doing things different rather than better. It’s still on my computer, this article, right on the desktop. I came to my senses before sending it, but it remains a constant reminder of how little I know about what the next big thing will be. And also it is a reminder to refrain from forming opinions about things (and people for that matter) you don’t understand. So what is NFC?

Near Field Communication is a technology that allows two devices to communicate and exchange digital information simply by being near one another. To put it in simpler terms, this means that by holding your phone up to another phone, a poster, or anything else that is equipped to read and communicate with another NFC chip, you can get information. 

The first thing I noticed when I looked at the specs of a typical NFC chip was that it was, technologically speaking, not all that remarkable. It operates at 13.56 MHz with data rates up to 424 kbps. What those numbers mean is that the NFC chip operates pretty slow. If this was the rate at which your computer operated, you’d be looking for a new computer pronto. The thing I realized after a little thought, though, and the first reason I held off on sending that article I mentioned, was that the amount of information that needs to be communicated through these chips is very small, less than a kilobyte. 

The next thing I thought when I saw NFC technology was, “Well, isn’t that we have QR codes for?” After I got passed the initial hurdle to understanding NFC, that of believing they were slow and therefore undesirable, I realized these things are the future, whereas QR codes are the present. It may take another year or so, as more people buy refurbished and new smartphones, but QR codes will be everywhere. Not “everywhere” like they are now, in newspapers and menus, but everywhere, like on every box of cereal, on every billboard. Hell, I’d be willing to bet that, if it doesn’t exists already, within the next year there will be a billboard that is only a QR code. Of course, I kind of hope that’s not the case because I can only imagine the pile-up that might occur because of it, but it should suffice to say QR codes are here. NFC, on the other hand, is still probably 2 or 3 years away, but its capabilities far exceed that of QR codes.

So that last part might be an answer to what NFC isn’t, but it’s one of the most important distinctions you can make if you are going to understand what they are.

What Can Near Field Communication Do?

Okay, if you have read my last post, you hopefully have a better understanding of what near field communication is. The only real way for most people to understand what it is, though, is by knowing what it does, and more accurately, what it can do. When I describe my current project (this blog) to friends, I’m usually met with feigned interest and then a gradual glossing over of the eyes. I don’t mind. Trust me, I’d rather have to look at that blank expression when I’m describing this stuff than when I’m talking about a new book project. But then I show them what it can do, usually through a Youtube video or something, and I have them. They want to know more, and there aren’t a hell of a lot of reputable places to find that information, hence this blog.

So, what can Near Field Communication do? At the risk of sounding like a used car salesman (no offence to use car salesmen), given enough time, what can’t it do? Here are some of the applications you are likely to see in the near future.

Entertainment

Usually I’m not a fan of advancements for the sake of advancements. If it doesn’t make my life significantly easier, why should I care about some new piece of tech? Well, let me just say that this doesn’t make your life significantly easier. In fact, I doubt it will make your life easier in the slightest, but there is a novelty factor I haven’t seen since the iPod Shuffle. Basically, the NFC chips are so small that they can be attached to anything, even movie and television show promotion posters. I’ve only ever seen this in a Youtube video, but if you want to see an exclusive trailer of a movie, you just have to hold the phone up to the poster, wait a second, and the trailer starts playing. This is great technology, especially for the movie theater industry, which is suffering right now, because not only does it generate hype about a particular movie, but it gets people in the door. Imagine you are an independent theater and in your “Now Playing” display at the door is a poster which might as well be a television screen because it’s entire purpose is to play the movie trailer for anyone who would like to see it. A couple strolls by, watches the trailer, and decides to give it a shot. Give them some soda and popcorn and there’s one sale you would not have gotten without NFC.

Exchanging Information

I know I’m not the only person with this opinion, but I’m kind of sick of people sharing information. I go on Facebook (which probably makes me a hypocrite now that I think about it) and see that my friend just did something amazing on Farmville, his wife is pregnant, his dog looks strikingly like his Aunt Edna, and “The Celtics Rawk!”. Too much information, friend I haven’t spoken to since high school, too much information. 

If, however, you don’t share my old man sentiments, I understand, and NFC is probably perfect for you. It used to be, back when I was young and we didn’t have these new-fangled gadgets, that there was no greater joy than having someone of the opposite sex write his or her name on your hand. You would find the nearest piece of paper and if before you could find one you put your hand in your pocket, you spent all night dialing 555-35… and guessing every possible combination until you got it right. Or maybe I just shared too much information myself. Regardless, now you can share your information, be that contact information, your Facebook profile, your eHarmony profile, whatever, with someone simply by holding up your NFC-enabled phone to another person’s NFC-enabled phone and like magic your information has been shared.

Payment

I can’t tell if this is going to be the first way we use NFC in our lives or the last. The technology is there for you to just swipe your NFC-enabled phone over a reader and pay for your purchase that way. The trouble is getting multi-billion dollar corporations to pay for everything that goes into overhauling the entire way we read and transfer credit card information. Basically that’s it, though. The day will probably come when you will go up to the register, wave your phone, and presto chango, you have paid.

Near Field Communication Frequently Asked Questions

Part of the reason I have decided to put together this blog is because every time a new technology is introduced, especially a new technology with this much hype behind it, people have a lot of questions. Questions that inevitably end up flooding my mailbox daily. Dutifully I answer emails (hopefully with a link to something I have been paid to write) and I don’t see my friends or family for days as I handle the collective worry of those who are relatively certain the end is nigh.  

Once Near Field Communication hits the US in the way it has hit Japan and is hitting the UK, I know no matter what I do I will be inundated with requests for information, however, there are some questions which I predict long before even using NFC to complete a transaction. Here are a list of these questions with the answers and please, if they answer your question, please let that be enough. I would like to see my family next year.

What’s NFC?

Near field communication is a technology that allows two NFC enabled devices to transfer information from one device to another. The reason it is called “near field” is that the two devices have to be within a certain distance from one another in order for the information to be transferred. This is not due to limitations on the NFC chip, but rather concerns for security.

When Was It Invented?

There is no definite date on which NFC was invented because it is really an incremental advancement of Radio Frequency Identification. What is known, however, is that it has been around for over a decade and is gaining popularity because the affordability of NFC chips has recently risen. Now able to be included in a phone at a reasonable price, the mass appeal of NFC will continue to increase.

Why Should They Be Used?

The answers to this question fall into two categories: Business and Private. 

Businesses are extremely interested in NFC for a few reasons. First, it will make transactions at the point of sale quicker and more convenient for the customer. Second, businesses can include NFC chips in their advertisement posters, increasing foot traffic as well as the likelihood of conversion. Finally, NFC chips allow for unprecedented amounts of information being gathered on a businesses customers, and that information can be used to determine future advertisement campaigns as well the effectiveness of current campaigns.

Private individuals can use NFC as a great way to share information. One of the more inconvenient things about even the most convenient smartphones is the transfer of information. We currently, if we do not have NFC enabled phones, must transfer information using the same technologies we have for PC work. We must gather the information into an email (or text) and send it. Not that intuitive. With NFC, however, you transfer information with a very intuitive gesture. Want your friend’s phone to have your contact information? Touch your friend’s phone with yours. Simple.

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