Experimenting with NFC Tags

The Samsung Google Nexus S 4G was the first smartphone to come with an NFC chip which allowed the use of Google Wallet (payment system). Since then, several smartphones have come out with built-in NFC chips, and it now seems to be the standard. In fact, Samsung has just released their TecTiles, which are programmable NFC Tags. If you have the right app, your NFC-Enabled smartphone can be used to read and write NFC Tags.

Since my HTC EVO LTE 4G phone also has an NFC Chip, I decided to experiment with NFC technology for my every day use. If you do a Google search on “NFC tags android” you’ll get lots of hits with various explanations and usages of NFC. The first thing I did was order some NFC Tags online. buynfctags.com is probably one of the best place to learn about tags and order them. There are lots to choose from: small sticker tags, wristband tags, keyfobs, plastic cards, and laundry token tags. Most of which are very inexpensive, ranging from $1-3 US. www.tagstand.com is another good site for ordering NFC tags.

Tags can be programmed to execute one or more tasks on your smartphone. You then touch or tap your phone to the tag and those tasks are executed. What I’ve found, is that the NFC reader on my EVO LTE has very limited range (approximately 1-2 cm), and thus required me to physically tap the phone to the tag.

Once you have your tags, you’ll need a way to program them. There are a few apps in the Google Play App Store, and my favorite is NFC Task Launcher. What’s nice about this app, is that you can create a “switch”, where you tap once to execute a series of tasks, and a 2nd tap will execute a different set of defined tasks. So, you could have your WiFi turned on with the first tap, and WiFi turned off with the second tap. So you use this app to define your tasks, then you tap it on a NFC tag to write to it. Since these tags are re-writable, you can use them over and over again.

So as a test, I have a tag sitting on my home office desk which will turn on my WiFi, turn off bluetooth, and turn up the ringer and notification volumes. I also have a tag in my car which will turn off WiFi, turn on Bluetooth. Finally, I have a tag at my work desk which will turn off WiFi and Bluetooth, silence all sounds, and set the phone to vibrate mode. It all seems to work ok, but sometimes I forget what each tag is setup to do. So, I’ve found using physical tags is great if you want to execute multiple tasks immediately.

One thing to note: Tags store very, very little data. So when you program them, you need to make sure the tag you are using has enough storage space to hold all your commands. The first set of tags I ordered online could only hold 48 bytes of data, so I could only store 2-3 task commands. My suggestion is to order tags that can hold 100 or more bytes of data. The typical amount of storage you’ll find with most tags is 144 bytes which is sufficient for a switch (two sets of commands).

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