Near Field Communication (NFC) is quite handy for transferring data between two devices. Whether you want to send photos, videos, files, or make a payment, NFC can make it easy to do so. But how does it work, and how do you use it? We’ll walk you through the important things you need to know about using NFC.
What is NFC?
The name for the technology gives away how it actually works. You have two NFC-capable devices, and they are able to communicate with each other if they are close to each other (i.e., “near” each other’s “fields”). Communication occurs via radio frequencies. Check out our other expanded overview of NFC and how it works for more details.
In the mobile scene, NFC is being marketed as a file-sharing or data-sharing tool. This specific use came to the fore when Google released Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich, which also debuted the Android Beam functionality. Through NFC and Android Beam, devices can swap files very quickly between each other. More than that, the presence of NFC on an Android device also allows the same device to read and/or write to programmable NFC tags.
Do you have NFC?
Not all phones and tablets have NFC. Does yours? How do you check if it’s there? One way is to check underneath the backplate and look for any small print or other clues. On certain (older) Samsung phones, for instance, you’ll see “Near Field Communication” printed on the battery pack.
On some devices — especially Sony Xperia handsets — you’ll see the N-Mark, the official symbol indicating that the device is NFC-enabled.
Or, you can skip all of the hardware fiddling and just check your phone’s Settings menu:
- On your Android device, tap on Settings.
- Tap More.
- Scroll down and you should see NFC and Android Beam options.
If your device has NFC, the chip and Android Beam need to be activated so that you can use NFC:
- Go to Settings > More.
- Tap on the NFC switch to activate it. The Android Beam function will also automatically turn on.
- If Android Beam does not automatically turn on, just tap it and select Yes to turn it on.
Smartphones’ NFC capabilities operate in tandem with Android Beam. If Android Beam is disabled, it may limit NFC’s sharing capacity.
Data sharing through NFC
With NFC activated, you already use it for beaming data. For successful data sharing, take note of the following:
- Both sending and receiving devices must have NFC and Android Beam activated.
- Neither of the devices should be asleep or locked.
- You’ll get both audio and haptic feedback when the two devices detect each other.
- Do not separate your devices until the beaming has started.
- You’ll hear audio feedback when the file or content has been successfully beamed.
At this time, the ability to share content is limited to small files. Regardless, you can still send content or file types such as web pages, map locations, and contacts with no trouble.
Whatever content or data it is you want to share via NFC (e.g., photos/images, contact info, webpages, videos, apps, etc.) — and regardless of whether you’re beaming to a tablet or to a phone from a phone or from a tablet — the generic way to beam content remains the same:
- Open the content to be shared.
- Place both devices’ backs against each other.
- Wait for sound and haptic confirmation that both devices have detected each other.
- Notice the sender’s screen shrink into a thumbnail and display “Touch to beam” at the top.
- Touch the sender’s screen to begin beaming. You’ll hear a sound when beaming starts.
- When beaming completes, you’ll hear audio confirmation. You’ll also get either a notification that the beaming has completed, or the appropriate handler app will launch and open the beamed content.
Sharing apps via NFC does not share the app’s APK. Instead, the sender’s device just beams the app’s Play Store page, and the receiver device opens it, ready for downloading.
Sharing web content and information
Sharing web pages via NFC does not send the web page itself. Rather, it merely sends the Web page URL and the other device opens it on the default Web browser.
Sharing YouTube videos
Technically, sharing YouTube videos does not share the video file. It does, however, direct the receiving phone’s YouTube app to the video.
Sharing contact info
When sharing a contact via NFC (if the receiving device has several Google accounts set up) the receiving device prompts the user to select the appropriate account. Otherwise, the contact info will be automatically saved and the Contacts app will display it.
Not all NFC-capable devices can share photos to each other. In cases where photo beaming succeeds, the receiving device gets a notification that the beam is completed. And when tapped, the beamed photo is displayed in the Gallery.
Using NFC tags
Apart from sharing content with other NFC-capable devices, you can also use NFC to configure your phone’s or tablet’s settings with just a tap. You can do this by tapping an NFC-capable device against a programmed NFC tag.
An NFC tag is an unpowered NFC chip, small enough to be embedded in items such as posters, movie passes, business cards, medication bottles, stickers, wristbands, key fobs, pens, hang tags, and more. The microchip can store small chunks of data, which can be read by an NFC-capable device. Different NFC tags have different memory capacities. You can store different data types on an NFC tag, such as a URL, contact info, or even commands and settings that the reading device could execute upon contact.
To read data from or write data to such NFC tags, you’ll need an NFC tag-reading or tag-writing app, such as the Trigger app, available from the Google Play Store. Tags programmed using this app can only be read by devices that have this same app installed.
You can program an NFC tag to perform tasks such as open a web page, configure phone settings, or even send text just by tapping the device against the tag. So, for instance, you may want to program an NFC tag for use when you reach the office, where you’d need your phone set to vibration mode, Wi-Fi set to on, and Bluetooth inactive. Just tap your device’s back against the programmed tag, and the device will perform the tasks programmed onto the tag.
Using the Trigger app, you can encode NFC tags and perform tasks or adjust settings, such as the following:
- Wi-Fi and Bluetooth settings (including Airplane mode, auto-sync, GPS on/off, mobile data on/off)
- Sound and volume settings (sound profile, ringtone, ring/notification volume, notification tone, media volume, system volume, alarm volume, and vibrate when ringing)
- Display options (brightness, notification light, auto rotation, display timeout)
- Social media (tweeting, checking in via check-in services such as Foursquare, Facebook, Google Latitude, Google Places)
- Messages (autosync, sending email, composing SMS, send Glympse)
- Apps and shortcuts (open app, close app, open activity, pause, open URL/URI, speak text, navigation, dock, car dock)
- Multimedia (start/stop media playback, move to next media, play previous media)
- Alarms (set alarm, set timer)
- Events (create event, create calendar timestamp)
- Security (activate lockscreen)
- Make phone call
- Samsung-specific modes (blocking mode, driving mode, power saving mode)
- Create Tasker tasks
To save all your selected actions/tasks onto the NFC tag, just tap the Save & Write button. And, to execute the actions or tasks, just tap the device’s back against the tag.
Mobile payments are probably what NFC is more known for. Paying with a smartphone is something of a novelty, and everyone is trying to sign up. It’s easy to run into issues, though, as not every vendor out there supports NFC transactions.
Want to learn more about mobile payments? The most popular services for Google’s mobile OS are Android Pay and Samsung Pay. We have put together full videos and articles on our experiences for each service. Check them out to see what they are all about.
Our thoughts on mobile payment services:
- Android Pay: What is it, how does it work and who supports it?
- Samsung Pay: What is it, how does it work and how do I use it?
Most Android handsets on the market already come with NFC functionality, so most folks reading this how-to will be able to transfer files using this technology. Do you have any tips for using NFC? If so, let us know your thoughts in the comments!