Is NFC Worthwhile?

Having been a somewhat stalwart iPhone user for the last several years, I recently bought a HTC One X Android phone. I decided to switch because I’d been given an iPhone as my work phone, so having two was a bit overkill. I can only play so many games of Angry Birds at a time, right? I’m glad I did switch though; the HTC is absolutely lovely.

I won’t gush too hard about why I love it, but, suffice to say, being a techy geek means that the sheer amount of customisation possible with Android has struck the right chord with me. However, one of the things that I couldn’t quite understand was the NFC capability. Aside from using Google Wallet (which you can’t technically use in the UK at the moment anyway) to pay for the odd Subway or McDonalds (seemingly the only places accepting contact payments right now), I mainly just saw it as a bit of a ridiculous gimmick. I’d written it off and had disabled it right from the minute I turned my phone on and had a glance through the settings.

Fortunately, I have now seen the light and I intend to preach to you good folk too.

It started with me installing and playing around with an Android app called Tasker. Tasker is a programme that runs scripts, basically, which can be used to automate a bunch of different activities on your phone. Typically, it’s used for things like changing your sound profile so that it’s quiet during your working hours, for example, or it can be configured to make sure that you don’t get woken up by anything except important phone calls overnight. It’s slightly complicated, but very powerful and can do almost anything you could want it to do.

I’d spent a little while playing with the app, and had figured out a way to get my phone to automatically turn Bluetooth on at home time, and pair with my car. Now, if anyone has actually spent a fair amount of time with Tasker, you’ll know that this is a pretty simple thing to do. Nonetheless, I was pretty chuffed to be honest, so I mentioned it to my colleagues… to which the reply was “oh, I just do that with my smart tag”.

Smart tags are Sony-branded tags that can be read by special software on Sony Xperia phones, and here’s what they can do:

Pretty cool, right?

So, I got to thinking about how they work, and wondered if there was something similar I could do on my own phone without the Sony software. Turns out you can! And here’s how…

Download the following software:

Buy yourself:

  • A couple of NFC tags (I use the NTAG203 tags from RapidNFC)

With these, the possibilities are endless. What NFC Task Launcher lets you do is write commands to your NFC tags so that whenever you subsequently scan the tag, it automatically carries out the command you registered. NFC Task Launcher lets you do the following: turn WiFi, Bluetooth, airplane mode, auto-sync etc. on or off, launch any installed app, change ringtone, set an alarm, start or stop media playback, send tweets or check-in with Foursquare etc., and many many other actions. Now, normally you’re limited by the amount of storage space on the NFC tag itself. They’re not very big in terms of storage, so if you load them up with multiple actions you’re going to run out of space. Typically, and depending on how much you want to spend on your tags, they can only really be used for a couple of commands.

However… the best thing about NFC Task Launcher is that it can run Tasker tasks.

Let’s say you set up the most complicated Tasker task you can think of; it has twenty steps, some wait periods, and changes several things on your phone all at the same time. There’s absolutely no way you’d be able to fit that stuff on an NFC tag. The beauty of using NFC Task Launcher is that if you use it with Tasker, you don’t need to store all that stuff on the tag – you just tell the tag to open Tasker and run the script. One command as far as the tag is concerned, but several according to your phone.

Why is this great? I’ll give you an example of some of the things I’m doing with mine!

Car Mode:

I’ve got a little tag on the back of my car phone holder, so that when my phone is slotted in, my phone reads the tag and automatically does all of the following…

  • Turns on Bluetooth
  • Turns off WiFi
  • Turns on GPS
  • Pairs with my car stereo
  • Sets media and call volume to high
  • Sets brightness to full
  • Opens a pop-up menu where I can select Car Mode, Navigation, Spotify or TuneIn Radio
  • Sets up text-to-speech to read out any text messages I receive via the car stereo
  • Sets up text-to-speech to let me know who is calling me via the car stereo

And when I leave the car, I tap the tag again and it reverses all of the above!

Home Mode:

A tag on the door as I walk into the house does the following…

  • Turns on WiFi
  • Turns off Bluetooth
  • Turns off GPS
  • Sets my sound profile to ‘normal’
  • Sends a Wake-on-LAN packet to my PC to turn it on

Night Mode:

A tag on my bedside table does this…

  • Sets sound profile to silent
  • Allows ‘important’ calls and text messages to ring/alert (my wife, my work, etc.)
  • Turns off WiFi, mobile data network and auto-sync except for 5 minutes every hour to check for emails etc.
  • Opens a pop-up asking me whether I want to be woken at the normal time, or at a different time than normal, and sets an alarm appropriately
  • Turns on dock mode, to make the phone act as a bedside clock

Again, all of this is reversed when I tap it again in the morning.

As you can see, the possibilities are only really limited by your imagination. I’ve massively enjoyed playing around with this feature, and it’s gone from being gimmicky to essential in my opinion.

If you’re using it, let me know what you think! I’m very happy to share my Tasker profiles if anyone is interested.

For further reading, check out this thread over at XDA Developers.

Posted on by Pixellated in Tech