Fourteen Ways NFC Will Let Your Phone Replace Your Wallet (And More)

We're seeing more and more NFC-enabled devices—but it's hard to get excited by anything that goes by three dull letters (notable exceptions: BFF, STD, UFO). NFC, however, is (potentially) quite awesome. Here's how we hope it'll shine.

First, the basics. NFC stands for Near Field Communication. Which still doesn't tell us much. Basically, it's a way for devices to transmit and receive very small bits of information, wirelessly, at very close ranges. How close? Centimeters close. So unlike beaming video from your laptop to your TV over Wi-Fi, or syncing phone contacts over Bluetooth, NFC is suited for simpler, daintier tasks. But that doesn't mean they can't be cool as hell. Here's a rundown of how we hope to see NFC seeping into our lives in the not too distant future:

1. Mobile Payment

This one's a gimme. Mostly, because it already exists—credit card companies like Visa are already pushing their contactless methods, and companies like Google and Apple have shown interest in turning our phones into debit cards. It might even show up in the next iPhone. What's it mean? No real wallet. Take out your phone, swipe it by the register, be on your way.

2. Goodbye Passport

This one, not so much a gimme—namely for security reasons. We can't imagine the US State Department relinquishing control of their most cherished proof of existence. But, as with your wallet, it'd be nice to consolidate the number of things you have to pack on a trip. Imagine swiping your phone at customs instead of digging around for your crinkled passport? New passports already have radio chips inside, anyway. Just hope suicide bombers don't start jailbreaking.

3. Keys

Apartment keys. Car keys. Hotel keys. Safe keys. Locker keys. Keys to your girlfriend's place. We all have way too many keys. So what if you could swipe your way indoors with only one object? Wireless door fobs are increasingly popular anyway—this one seems likely.

4. Contact Exchange

Hey! What's your number! What? I can't hear you! Two oh two, three... WHAT? Sorry, it's really loud in here. Can you just—oh forget it. And there goes the love of your life. Instead, you could have enabled a contact exchange mode and swapped digits with NFC—no need to keep battery-munching Bluetooth or Wi-Fi turned on.

5. Comparison Shopping

Imagine a little radio chip in everything on the shelf. Toys. Books. DVDs. Swipe it with your phone, and see if you should be shopping elsewhere for a better price. Remember—RFID tags are tiny—you can stick 'em anywhere. Comparison shopping apps exist already, but barcode scanning is about as fun as paying too much.

6. Instant Restaurant Reviews

Google is already pushing this one, with their RIFD-enabled Places stickers emblazoned upon the windows of some establishments, but think if this were universal? Does that taco place look dubious? Can a window poster and see what everyone on Yelp, MenuPages, and the rest of the discerning foodienet has to say.

7. Perfect Foursquare Check-Ins

Cheating on Foursquare ranks about as low in the grand scheme of life problems as losing your iPhone cable, but having a node of some sort that you could swipe-to-check-in would both speed up the process, and guarantee its accuracy. No more disputed mayorships!

8. Easy Tickets

Buy your ticket online. Swipe your phone to enter the theater. This will certainly put people out of jobs, but, shit man—I need to rush in to make sure I don't miss the previews! Surely you'll understand. The same process could go for any kind of ticket—airplane included. Swiping boarding passes? Yes please. Another way to bury obnoxious barcode scanning, too.

9. Advertising

This ain't exactly a noble one, but shopping mavens would undoubtedly like the ability to swipe their phones over a poster or billboard, and be directed to a website where they can buy or get more info. Mag ads wouldn't work, unfortunately—even with a meager 4 cm range, an NFC device would scan through every page (and ad) at once.

10. Dead Simple Bibliographies

That works cited page. THE WORST. Or, if your book is tagged with a tiny radio chip in its spine, swipe your phone over it to generate a perfectly formatted bibliography (sort of like existing tech does less gracefully). Or be directed to a Wikipedia page on the novel's author. Or relay yourself to Amazon to browse the rest of their oeuvre.

11. Educated Grocery Shopping

How much fat does this frozen mac and cheese have? Swipe. I've got nutmeg, time to cross it off my shopping list app. Swipe. Food is complicated, as is shopping healthily—breaking down edible info without having to look at every piece of packaging would be a godsend, and lend itself to healthier checkout aisles. Tagged food is smart food.

12. Medicine Demystified

Do I have a refill on this prescription? Swipe the (tagged) pill bottle, and let your phone communicate with a remote pharmacy database. What dangerous interactions do I have to keep in mind? Swipe again! Safe and easy.

13. Pet Tags

Whose adorable lost puppy is this? Well, I guess we'll just have to keep him, since we don't know where he's from. Oh, wait! His collar has an RFID tag in it, and my phone can pull up full information on his vet records and contact info on his owners. Aw, shucks.

14. Less Painful Hospitals

What if that bracelet had more than just your name and some numbers on it? What if it contained your entire medical history, so that your doctor could pull up your file on his phone, wirelessly? Faster treatment, smarter doctors, safer patients.

But what else? We'll have to see. It's a subtle, flexible technology. It'll replace our credit cards, sure—but we hope it'll move beyond commerce, as clever imaginations and good design grab ahold of it and stick it, well—everywhere. Where can you imagine NFC tech making your life a tiny bit better? Or, conversely, does the idea of a radio-tagged reality spook you a bit?