What Is Near-Field Communication?

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Samsung's Nexus S brings with it the latest tasty version of Android, Gingerbread. But the phone also comes with another technological bonus baked in. Here's what you need to know about near field communication.

It's another short-range wireless technology...

NFC isn't really new...or cutting edge. In fact, it's basically a variation of other short-range wireless technologies already used throughout the world—especially in Japan and Europe. Like RFID, near field communication can quickly swap information between devices when they're touched together. You can exchange things like text, images, URLs or other data simply by holding your phone up to various "smart tags."

...That uses magnets to send data...

Based on inductive-coupling (think Powermat and other wireless charging schemes), NFC uses loosely coupled inductive circuits to exchange power and/or data over a short distance (usually about four centimeters). While it shares the same basic technology with things like RFID tags and contactless smartcards, NFC is implemented as a read-only tech in the Nexus S. That means you'll only get info from other NFC tags, not the other way around. These tags cost pennies to implement and can be embedded in nearly anything: stickers, posters, glass, and so on.


...And is intended to make your life easier...

In theory. While it hasn't enjoyed the same popularity stateside, NFC tech is already big in Japan, where you can use your NFC-enabled phone to buy train tickets in Tokyo or as a contactless payment system at various retailers. Google hopes that by including it in its new flagship Android device and open-sourcing the software, it'll eventually change the way people use and interact with their phone here in the US, too.


...But isn't fully baked yet.

There are literally hundreds of use cases for NFC. But none of them are really up and running. Google has some ideas about what you can expect, though. Imagine going to a movie theater and seeing the latest Tron poster. Disney could stick a NFC tag inside, and you could simply touch your phone up to that poster to grab the latest trailer. Other uses include everything from a more robust check-in system for Foursquare to easier home shopping. Point your phone at a "for sale" sign and instantly bring up the URL where all the house photos and details are listed.