NFC Tags – Bringing your mobile tasks to the tangible

NFC Tags popped into my mind recently as I had been seeing more ads on Facebook for things like, “The last business card you’ll ever use!” They come in all sorts of offerings, from plastic to metal. One site, which I can’t even bother to look up again, offers them in ridiculous price ranges, as much as $200+ for what basically boils down to a sightless QR Code.

Knowing that everything offered on Facebook can usually be found cheaper on eBay (or other places) and having a history in mild programming via Arduino projects, I thought, how hard can these NFC (near field communication) things be to figure out? So, I’m surprised to say only a few searches later, an eBay purchase and some experimenting with the programming app and I had basically figured it all out.

Now, it should be said, NFC Tools, the app I used to program the NFC stickers I picked up on eBay, is quite basic. It is thorough though for most basic needs you would want an NFC tag to perform. However, I know there’s also a whole other world of use for these. Mostly in programming them directly as you wish.

The Gist of NFC Tags

NFC is the option on your phone that lets you pay at the store without touching anything. Handy these days, but it has much more capabilities than that. With NFC on your phone, when activated, it actually sends a very small amount of electricity to the receiver (tag) where data (or instructions) are saved and then relayed back to the device. All in milliseconds of course. Similar principals to wireless charging are used but data is limited.

The NFC tags described here have a 180 byte capacity.

NFC Tools, transfer data quite easily. That is basically what these advertised business cards are doing. When you swipe your NFC able phone over the NFC receiver (card/sticker), it will read the data on it and transfer it to the phone. This can range, from a direct contact update, web address, simple text, location, address, etc.

If you wish to learn about everything NFC, or at least get off on the right foot, hop on over to our dear friend, Wikipedia.

You can also use tasks, however and things start to get more interesting there. To use the tasks built into NFC Tools, however, you need the NFC Tasks app. It is from the same developer. They said they made a 2nd app so as not to have to go through all the notifications for phone management if you didn’t really need it. It would seem a lot of people download NFC Tools and use the “Write” options only.

This makes sense from commercial use, because the recipient doesn’t need the NFC Tasks app to receive the information you want to send over. In the popular business card model, of course you don’t want to have to download another app to use it.

However, for at home use, adding NFC Tasks is no problem and adds a lot of nice functionality to the use of your tags. For example, you can browse your phone for a specific app and use the NFC Tag to launch it. Or, launch your Internet router’s admin address.

With all that in mind…

What you will need to program your first NFC Tag

  1. NFC Tags
    • Here’s the ones I picked up
      NFC Sticker
    • These turned out to be re-writeable, no problem and can also be set to locked so it can’t be written to again.
    • I grabbed 10 for a little under 1 Euro each
  2. Programming App
    • You’ll need an app that lets your phone program the NFC chip in the stickers you’ll be programming.
    • This is where it is important to note that if you can’t find the NFC options on your Android device, then you don’t have an NFC capable phone.
    • NFC Tools works great, but if you use tasks from it, you’ll also need NFC Tasks.
  3. Something or Somewhere to Put Them
    • I decided to put my NFC stickers on some thin bamboo tags I got a 100 of in a bag from China last year. I figured I would find a use for them with my laser printer, and this has been a fun use of them for sure.
    • You could put them somewhere more permanent, like on a wall. For example, swipe your phone when you get home to then basically do anything that’s connected to the Internet. Turn on lights, etc. This I haven’t researched as much.

I could get into all the finer details, but honestly the app is really easy to use. Here are 3 basic steps you’ll need to take when using NFC Tools.

3 basic steps to program an NFC tag

  1. Erase the NFC sticker you want to use.
    • Open NFC Tools and go to the “Other” tab
    • Choose “Erase tag”

      NFC Tools
    • Swipe over the NFC tag to erase, as prompted.

  2. Create the info or task you want to run. (For this example, let’s say turn on the flashlight on your phone.)
    • Go to the “Tasks” tab in NFC Tools
    • Choose “Add a task”
    • Tap on “Various”

      NFC Tools
    • Choose “Flashlight” then how you want it to work.
      • Do you want the tag to only send the “Turn on flashlight” signal?
      • I believe the better option is to choose “Toggle” so that it changes your flashlight based on its current state. It is off, swiping the tag will turn it on. It is on, it will turn it off.
    • Choose “OK”
  3. Write the instructions/tasks (you can choose multiple)
    • Now choose the “Write / 46 Bytes” (bytes may change)

      NFC Tools
    • When prompted guide your phone to the NFC tag and it will write the instruction and confirm it completed successfully.

      NFC Tools
    • It is important to watch for the confirmation. If the NFC tag or phone move too much during the write process, it will fail. I had this happen the first couple of times.
  4. Start using your new NFC tag!
    1. Now when you swipe your phone over the tag, it will run the desired command. Make sure to close the NFC Tools app first though. If you made an NFC Tools task, you’ll also need the NFC Tasks app.

So this was a very basic rundown, for a basic task and opens the door to using NFC Tags easily. I expect with further research and digging, however, this could really do a lot of amazing things once you combine the near limitless possibility of a phone triggering events.

Good luck and happy NFCing!

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