Tech Watch: Near Field Communication

Category:  Tech Watch
Monday, July 16th, 2012 at 9:56 AM
Tech Watch: Near Field Communication by Michael Haas


By: Michael Haas, Epic WebStudios

Imagine you’re parking downtown near Perry Square for a quiet lunch. You get out of your car only to find out that you don’t have any change for the parking meter. What’s an Erieite to do? Well, today you would be forced to ransack your car or ask random strangers for quarters, or you’d have to try your luck with the parking attendant. However, with NFC technology, you could avoid a ticket simply by using your cell phone.

NFC, or “Near Field Communication,” is a budding form of technology that is growing rapidly around the nation, specifically within the smartphone industry. According to Mashable, “Near Field Communication is a set of standards for smartphones and similar devices to establish radio communication with each other by touching them together or bringing them into close proximity, usually no more than a few centimeters.” Essentially, NFC technology allows your phone to communicate with other technology around it just by placing it a few centimeters away from it. 

Recently, there’s been a massive increase in the number of reasons to use NFC, but the main one is payment. In addition to cities like San Francisco adding NFC capabilities to their parking meters, Google has initiated “Google Wallet,” which basically functions as a debit card built right into your phone that you use via NFC. 

Establishments are increasingly granting the ability to pay using Google Wallet and NFC, and Erie establishments should pay attention. Personally, carrying a wallet around with me everywhere can get annoying. However, I always have my phone on me (almost obsessively). Wouldn’t it just be easier to carry one thing with you, and leave the rest at home? This is the core understanding of NFC/Google Wallet.

But the technology doesn’t end at paying for things. With the introduction of “NFC Tags,” the possibilities are now endless. A “tag” is essentially just a small microchip that you can program to do myriad tasks once activated via NFC. For example, I programmed a tag to automatically turn the WiFi connection on/off whenever I place my phone on that section of my desk. Leaving for a meeting? Just place the phone on that spot, and the NFC technology will automatically make me mobile-ready. Coming back from the meeting? Place the phone again on the desk, and I’m now connected to Epic WebStudio’s wireless connection once more. 

But for Erie, the uses of NFC are much less trivial. For example, signs in the city could have tags on them that would pull up a map of where they’re located. Or the plaque outside city hall could direct tourists to its website. And with tags costing about a dollar each, it’s a no-brainer. The E could place NFC tags in each of its bus stops that would give an update to its website, or even have a programmed popup that would direct people to call its hotline.

Plus, programming the NFC tags is as easy as shooting a photo. I programmed mine in under 2 minutes. Simply use an NFC Tag app to select what you want the tag to do, and then hold your phone over the app…and presto! It’s all programmed and ready to go. There are a plethora of apps letting you program NFC tags, and finding one is as easy as searching for “NFC Tags” in the Google Play Market. Unfortunately, as of right now, NFC technology is only available for certain smartphones… iOS excluded. iPhones do not support NFC yet, but we’re looking forward to the day when Tim Cook makes that happen (hopefully with the introduction of the iPhone 5!).

But for now, the question isn’t whether Erie should move forward with NFC… it’s to what extent.

Michael Haas can be contacted at

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