When it comes to making smartphones even easier and more powerful to use, Apple’s voice recognition app Siri has been stealing the spotlight lately. After all, commanding your phone to call someone is easier than opening up an app and finding their name in a contact list. But, as innovative as it is to talk to a smartphone, it may not always be the easiest way to tell your smartphone what to do.
How about just tapping your phone against a sticker?
TecTiles from Samsung are stickers that contain near-field communication (NFC) tags, which can be programmed to trigger a variety of actions when your smartphone is placed against it. So instead of calling your significant other to let them know you are heading home from work, you could just tap a sticker on your desk with your phone and initiate an automatic email or text for you.
You may recall that NFC allows devices with the appropriate chip to communicate wirelessly with one another when they are in close physical proximity. The tech has been envisioned as a way for people to make purchases with their smartphone by simply waving it in front of a reader. However, beyond mobile payments, ideas for how to use NFC have been fairly limited. TecTiles aim to change that.
The kinds of actions that can be triggered by holding the phone to a TecTile includes changing phone settings, launching an app, joining a Wi-Fi network, and opening a web page. You can make a call, send a text, or start a Google Talk conversation. It also works with popular social media like Twitter, Facebook, Foursquare, and LinkedIn. A TecTile could be a handy thing to have at your work, so you could just tap it when you arrive to automatically connect to the network and set your phone to vibrate, for instance. Businesses could use the social media connections by putting up a TecTile so people could check in to their location, get a contact, or Tweet where they are at.
A pack of 5 TecTiles currently costs $15, which seems steep for something that is basically a sticker with an NFC chip in it, but at least the app is free. Samsung is making the tags available through mobile stores, which could take them a while to see broad adoption. They are launching the program along with the Galaxy S III smartphone, and several other phones are available that can use the stickers.
But Samsung is not the only one to venture into NFC tags. Sony is offering SmartTags with its soon-to-launch Xperia Ion. The tags (costing $30 for a pack of 4) work much the same as TecTiles, as you can see from the following video:
The potential for NFC has been looming on the horizon for a while, but a few factors have kept the tech waiting in the wings. For one, most phones lack NFC chips, though that is likely to change soon with next-generation smartphones. Additionally, the higher cost of NFC chips are the biggest contributor to the price points of TecTiles and SmartTags. Fortunately, with greater demand, the prices of the chips are bound to drop, perhaps to the point that they could be easily embedded into just about anything.
Although TecTiles and SmartTags are a good first step, greater innovation is needed with NFC beyond merely automating processes we can do on our smartphones in under a minute. Unfortunately, these tags may really just be a way to get people warmed up to using NFC for mobile payments, as CNET suggests. But with a handful of other ways to make mobile payments, such as Square’s credit card reader or Apple’s recently announced Passbook, payments via NFC may not make as big of a splash as it would have a few years ago.
The Internet of Things is increasingly talked about as being a near-future reality, but what isn’t known is what technology is going to really usher it in. Because NFC allows a smartphone to be used not only as an electronic device but a physical one as well, it expands a phone’s utility into a whole new dimension. But the long-term success of NFC as a useful technology will depend on whether anyone really wants to use their phone this way, because so far, they haven’t.