Random Geek Outings - The Geek I/O Network :: N.F.C. Tags and Phone Automation

On Episode 30 of The Geek I/O Show I briefly discussed NFC (Near Field Communications) tagsand a few things they can be used to accomplish. 

I didn't get to go into detail so I wanted to do a small blog post to cover it a bit more in depth. I hope you're in for a read!

(Boring?) Technical details:

In this post, my examples are using a Samsung Galaxy Note (ATT) running CyanogenMod 10.1.0 (Android 4.2.2) and Samsung's TecTiles, which use a MIFARE Classic NFC Chipset.

The Basics:

I should probably start with the very basic capabilities, those that don't require an app to read/activate a tag. These are features that any device, with NFC turned on, should be able to perform. You can create a tag to display a message (via a text "toast" message), display a contact (pulled from the creator's contact list), display a website, or send an email. (see Image 1-4) And this is just the beginning with NFC.

Advanced Use:

On the show, I briefly mentioned setting up a tag to automatically mute your phone and set an alarm, allowing you to simply set your phone down on your side table and be ready for a sound night's sleep!

Another example: Imagine sitting down to your desk, and setting down your phone and it turns on WiFi, turns your ringer down (it could even change the ringtone) , disables notifications, and check into a facebook and/or foursquare location. And a handy feature that some NFC apps (in my case I use Tagstand's  NFC Task Launcher) also allows you to have a second "task" saved, when you tap the same tag a second time it will activate. 

My Use: 

Currently I've setup a tag that is attached in my phone's car dock. It is setup to enable my hot-spot, turn my music volume to full and resume playing my podcast app of choice (currently Pocket Casts). I also have a second task setup to bring my volume down to a lower level, stop playback and turn off my hot-spot. (see Image 5) After you've setup all the actions you want performed, you have to write the instructions to the tag by clicking the arrow in the top right corner of the app, then tapping your phone to the tag (see Image 6).

Security:

If you leave a tag as is, any phone can re-write actions to the tag. Most tags can be "locked" to prevent them from being modified. In the NFC Task Launcher app, this is an irreversible action (think of it like burning a CD-R) . This could be used to create a permanent tag that can be placed in public without having to worry about it being changed. As a side note, the Samsung TecTIles app also has the option to "lock" a tag. The app states this is reversible, but from my testing I ended up wasting a tag in the process; so be careful if trying to create a temporary lock on a tag. 

The Downside:

The biggest disadvantage I've found so far is that your phone will read a tag every time it "wakes up". So in the car dock scenario, if I let my phone go to sleep, then receive a message/get a call, etc... the phone will read the tag again. This is solved by one of two methods:

  1. Place the tag in a such a way that your device will not read it when it is randomly awoken.
  2. Set a timer (if the app supports it) to disable re-reading a tag within a user defined time-span.

I've chosen the latter, mainly to test it out the usefulness of a stationary tag, like my car dock.

"Super Advanced" Uses:

Now combine the convenience of NFC to the power of an automation app like Tasker and you have practically unlimited possibilities in your hands. 

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