What is NFC? Here’s everything you need to know

By Simon Hill

All of today’s smartphones are equipped with NFC technology. Whether you realize it or not, your phone is likely using NFC right now. But don’t worry — NFC uses minimal battery and processing power while offering a host of benefits that improve your device’s functionality.

Although it’s widely used in peer-to-peer payment and data transfer apps, NFC has many more applications that can make your life easier. Read on to find out how you can fully take advantage of your phone’s NFC capability.

What is NFC?

NFC stands for near-field communication, and it allows phones, tablets, laptops, and other devices to share data with other NFC-equipped devices easily. It evolved from radio-frequency identification (RFID) technology. RFID is behind those security scan cards that get you into the office every day or bypass that tollbooth on your morning commute.

NFC is very much like RFID, but NFC is limited to communication within about four inches, which is why you have to hold your phone so close to the contactless reader if you’re using Apple Pay or Samsung Pay. Most people consider NFC’s small radius a major security benefit, and it’s one reason why NFC has taken off as a secure alternative to credit cards. The technology can be used for more than buying coffee at Starbucks, however. NFC can also transfer data like videos, contact information, and photos between two NFC-enabled devices.

How does NFC work?
Unlike Bluetooth, NFC doesn’t require any manual pairing or device discovery to transfer data. An NFC connection is automatically started when another NFC device enters into the previously specified four-inch range. Once in range, the two devices instantly communicate and send prompts to the user. There’s huge potential with NFC. Listed below are three major ways we already use NFC between devices.

NFC payments
How to use Google Pay
Everything you need to know about Samsung Pay
How to use Apple Pay
Mobile payments
As consumerism gradually transitions to a cashless world, mobile payments have become a popular method of transaction. With banks’ cooperation and the biometric technology equipped on most modern smartphones, making a mobile payment is secure and convenient. Placing your smartphone within four inches of the contactless reader in a store will prompt your digital wallet or passbook to pop up and ask you to confirm payment. With Apple Pay, this means placing your finger on the home button, which houses the Touch ID function, or double pressing your power button to scan your face with Face ID. It also works with Google Pay and Samsung Pay.

Samsung Pay
Sharing between Android devices
When two enabled NFC devices are in range, a prompt will appear asking if you’d like to “beam” whatever content (videos, contact information, or photos) is on-screen to the other Android device. Android devices have been able to use Android Beam for a while now (since version 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich), but it’s a little-known feature, which may be part of the reason that Google discontinued it. In Android 10, Android Beam no longer works, and Google is slowly replacing it with Nearby Share, but the rollout is slow.

These passive tags don’t require power and can be programmed with apps like Tasker to perform certain tasks when scanned. For instance, you can put one on your desk, and with a quick scan on the tag, you can set your phone to vibrate, disable GPS, or enable only work-related notifications, among other options.

Which devices have NFC?
The list of NFC-equipped devices is growing every day. To keep track of what devices are taking advantage of NFC technology, NFC World maintains a mostly up-to-date list of NFC-enabled phones. Many Android devices have NFC, and every iPhone since the iPhone 6 is also packing the feature.

Every iPhone since the iPhone 6
For a long time, Apple restricted NFC-equipped devices to make purchases. However, the latest batch of iPhones, including the iPhone 12, 12 Pro, 12 Pro Max, and 12 Mini, also support NFC tags through the Launch Center Pro app.

NFC was also added to the iPad range, starting with the iPad Pro, the iPad Air 2, and the third-generation iPad Mini, but those devices won’t work with in-store contactless readers. For a full breakdown of all Apple devices that support NFC and their limitations in terms of Apple Pay, check out this Apple support page.

Every device running on Android 4.0 or later
If your device is running Android 4.4 or later, you can use Google Pay. If you have a Samsung device, you can also use Samsung Pay.

Android phones operating on Android 4.4 to Android 9.0 can also use Android Beam for a message or file exchange. You can pass a lot of information to others, like YouTube videos, contact information, specific webpages, and much more. To start Android Beam, just go to your phone’s settings. For Samsung Galaxy S10, navigate to the following pathway: Settings > Connections > NFC and Payment. From there, select NFC, and then scroll and tap on Android Beam. When using the beam feature, it’s best to place your phone near another device with an NFC chip. A notification will pop up, asking you to confirm whether you want to connect to the detected device.

What else can NFC do?
NFC is capable of so many functions— digital wallets like Apple Pay, Google Pay, and Samsung Pay just cover a tiny fraction of its capabilities. Music-lovers can connect their device to speakers quickly through NFC. This technology is also in the process of overhauling public transportation; In some situations, users can scan their NFC-enabled smartphones on buses or use them as metro passes. Users can add money to their bus or metro pass directly through an app, then always ensuring you have some funds on your card. This technology is capable of supporting loyalty cards, too. Finally, there’s also the possibility to implant an NFC chip into your body. Wild, we know.

You can utilize NFC tags for a variety of activities. One way to learn more about this technology is to consider creating NFC coasters to grant visitors access to your Wi-Fi.

(Credit: Digittrend)

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