NFC on Smartphones: Is it Really that Big a Deal?
Just tap devices to transfer files. Hell, tap to even make payments! That’s NFC in short for you. But should it be a deciding factor for buying a smartphone like the Galaxy S III or the iPhone 5? We explore.
What is NFC?
NFC (Near Field Communication) is a technology that allows for low-range, 2-way transmission of data over the air, consuming less power. The range is from 0 (which means you can simply tap/touch the other device) to a couple of centimeters at the maximum. Although the intended operation(except for the range) works similar to Bluetooth from the user’s perspective, we tell you how it will make a difference to your use of the smartphone.
Which devices have NFC?
The Galaxy S III advertisement by Samsung makes mention of NFC (among others) as a killer feature for it’s Galaxy S III smartphone. The S III however is not the only one to have NFC. Various other Android smartphones, including many from HTC, Samsung (esp. the Galaxy range), LG (Optimus range) and Sony (Xperia range) have support for NFC. This even applies for some Nokia Series 40 phones, Symbian Anna, Belle, BlackBerry, Windows Phones and even some J2ME-based models. According to http://ld2.in/4ao, Apple did receive a patent for a touch screen RFID tag reader back in 2009. However, further plans to expand on this RFID support stalled.
Will NFC work across different phones?
The NFC Forum was established in 2004. So, the standard has been around for a long time. NFC has its roots in RFID, from where specifications for NFC tags and posters were developed. The same NFC Forum later in 2009 released standards for P2P exchange of information, including but not limited to transferring URLs and contact information.
The current certification program of the NFC Forum does not yet include testing all of the different levels of protocols involved. There are plans to remedy this soon. However, the NFC Forum offers its members a platform where they can anonymously test the interoperability of their products with other NFC products through handson experiments.
What about performance?
The data rates are not as fast as Bluetooth, but then NFC is not intended to carry a large amount of data in a batch. The plus point is, unlike Bluetooth, you do not have to pair the devices. The highest data transfer rate supported by NFC is 424 Ob/s. That’s probably as fast as the endpoint data rate in most corporate internet connections as experienced by a single end-user. A 5 megapixel JPEG photograph, at peak speed, will take about half a minute to be transferred as opposed to 10-12 seconds with Bluetooth and a typical song in the MP3 format will take a couple of minutes to be transferred, more than a minute slower than Bluetooth. NFC is not limited to a typical file-sharing scenario though, it has various applications in e-payment, social as well as even for initiating Bluetooth and Wi-Fi configuration by means of bootstrapping.
Should my next purchase factor in NFC?
The technology surely looks promising. NFC, unlike Bluetooth, can be used in powerless (passive) tags as well. NFC effectively establishes a point-to-point connection instead of a personal area network as with Bluetooth. This, is to be considered along with the fact that there is no support for RFID-based cryptography in NFC. This is not really much of a deterrent in crowded places, since the very low range will make it difficult to eavesdrop and relate a captured signal to it’s transmitting device.
So, if you see yourself visiting outlets which are planning to use NFC soon or feel more comfortable using a very low range NFC instead of a less restrictive Bluetooth in a crowded environment, you might want to go for an NFC-enabled device. If you upgrade / switch your handset every couple of years, you most probably have no immediate need in India to consider NFC as a key factor to consider in your next purchase. By the time NFC does become commonplace, there will surely be much better handsets out in the market. That said, NFC alone cannot be a tie-breaking factor to consider when you are evaluating the S III versus the iPhone 5.