07
Dec
nfc
Last Updated: February 9th, 2011

Update 2/9/11: Writing/transmitting via NFC is now possible thanks to the 2.3.3 update.

One thing that was very much anticipated in the Nexus S and Gingerbread in general was NFC (Near Field Communication) support, which is a feature we've never seen before on an Android device. In fact, the vast majority of us took it to mean that it will allow you to use your phone as a credit card, which would indeed be very exciting and insanely cool. Unfortunately, that's not the case here; rather, the technology will allow the Nexus S (and other NFC-capable Android phones) to act as a glorified barcode scanner of sorts.

We first discovered this yesterday by way of page 333 of Google's own Gingerbread manual, which happens to mention that the NFC support built into Gingerbread basically allows phones to function as readers, but not as transmitters. Therefore, NFC-enabled Android devices will be able to scan NFC tags, or transmitters, but will not be able to transmit information themselves. In English, that means your shiny new Nexus S won't be able to act as a credit card due to the fact that it can't transmit information for NFC readers (potentially ones such as cash registers) to pick up on.

Andy Rubin then confirmed this at yesterday's D: Dive Into Mobile conference. While demoing the Nexus S, he pulled out a piece of paper which contained a "printed equivalent" of what was on his phone, scanned it, and was presented with a YouTube video. Cool, but let us not forget that this is essentially what you can do today with a barcode-scanning app such as Barcode Scanner or Google's own Goggles, only without a camera.

I'm not saying we won't be able to swipe our phones at the cash register instead of swiping our credit cards eventually, but what I am trying to make clear here is that we won't be able to do this with Gingerbread phones. For that to happen, Google would have to allow manufacturers to use NFC tags in their devices so that other devices could read information off of them, much like credit card readers do to credit cards (and also much like the exact opposite of what's going on in 2.3). Maybe in Honeycomb...

Update by Artem: I invite all the naysayers to read the official Gingerbread NFC API docs (and specifically NFCAdapter) - nowhere in there does it mention transmitting of tags. While the chip may support it, the API in Gingerbread does not, and that's the topic of this article.

Sources: Gingerbread Manual, Engadget; thanks to Ian Douglas for the tip

Jaroslav Stekl
Jaroslav Stekl is a tech enthusiast whose favorite gadgets almost always happen to be the latest Android devices. When he's not writing for Android Police, he's probably hiking, camping, or canoeing. He is also an aspiring coffee aficionado and an avid moviegoer.

  • Alex H.

    It can still be used for paying but would require a data connection. You scan where to send money/info and then it sends it via data. It's a more secure as your info isn't out there for anyone to grab.

    • Andi

      Yeah, but will the seller see the payment quick enough then?

      • http://mindmirror007.blogspot.com alchemist007

        It will be just like Mastercard tap and go! Sellers should see the information right away!

        • Chris

          You're telling me you Mastercard has cell data access? I doubt it, what you meant to say is it will be exactly opposite of Mastercard tap and go.

          The Nexus S will not be able to use Mastercard tap and go stations.

  • dethduck

    Seriously, between Gingerbread and the Nexus S, how can Google fail so much? What the hell is going on over there?

    • http://mindmirror007.blogspot.com alchemist007

      I don't know what all the fail people talking about! Gingerbread is a huge win with so many things going right at the basic code level. If anything, Google is building Android bottoms up which is a really great thing to do!

      • http://www.AndroidPolice.com Artem Russakovskii

        Gingerbread is definitely not a fail. It's a huge leap forward.

    • Jay

      Get your facts straight. The NFC chip in the Nexus S works both ways, it is just not enabled in gingerbread.

      Nexus S uses highest tier currently available tech. Dual-core is not ready. Get over it.

      Nexus S and Gingerbread are another epic leap for android in so many ways. If you don't believe that then I don't want you in my community. Begone.

      • http://www.androidpolice.com/author/jaroslav-stekl/ Jaroslav Stekl

        As Artem and I told several other commenters, this article is talking about how Gingerbread does not feature two-way capabilities for NFC, not about how the Nexus S' NFC chip is only one-way. We never said anything about the Nexus S' NFC capabilities being limited hardware-wise in this piece.

  • http://technocrate.net nailerr

    It requires the technology become accepted by regular people as a thing that exists before it has backing for use as a money transfer system. Asian countries are already familiar with the concept where most of the Western world outside geekdom are not. Yet.

    Honestly I would also prefer it be incoming only for the time being simply because as Android advances at this rapid pace you never know what sort of horrible bug might slip in and expose the personal content of the device. In time it will come, safely.

    And on the other side inwards is not entirely without merit as you need to fire up a bar-code scanner where it would appear NFC is a passive always on system. I wonder how the battery life will fair.

  • http://brentonklik.com Brenton

    TechCrunch Review:

    "NFC will also allow for phones to swap data between each other with a minimal amount of hassle, as soon as developers add support for that (the Nexus S chip supports both read and write operations). This is basically future-proofing the phone, and a year from now I expect that most Android phones (and likely iPhones) will be shipping with NFC."

    Your headline is a little sensational. Lets be clear that the phone has the capability, but it is not fully implemented yet.

    • http://www.AndroidPolice.com Artem Russakovskii

      Sure, that may be so, but the headline is: "NFC in Gingerbread is crippled," and I don't see anything incorrect about that.

  • Eggcake

    Why sensational?
    You/TechCrunch is talking about "a year from now" and I don't think that "a year from now" is still "Gingerbread".

    But as Alex said, this should be much more secure...

    • http://brentonklik.com Brenton

      Sensational, because no where in this article does it even mention (unless I've missed it) the fact that the phone is capable of two-way communication via NFC.

      • http://www.AndroidPolice.com Artem Russakovskii

        All Nexus S and Gingerbread details so far are pointing at only the tag reading support in Gingerbread with no mention of any kind of transmitting. Even the official Nexus S launch post only said "read information from NFC tags." If they were including NFC transmission support in Gbread, don't you think they would have mentioned it?

        Sure, it may come later, but the point is, Gingerbread doesn't support it.

      • http://www.androidpolice.com/author/jaroslav-stekl/ Jaroslav Stekl

        Sure, the article doesn't say this explicitly, but it doesn't state the opposite, either. Besides, we don't even have a surefire way of knowing that the chip in the Nexus S will be two-way yet.

  • RLM

    Nowhere in the pdf file it says that the NFC chip of the Nexus does not come with two-way data exchange. Page 333 explains the Tags app, which is intended to read tags, so naturally does not require data sending.
    Perhaps the author should think and be more careful before posting things.

    • http://www.AndroidPolice.com Artem Russakovskii

      Here is the NFC API in Gingerbread: http://developer.android.com/reference/android/nfc/package-descr.html http://developer.android.com/reference/android/nfc/NfcAdapter.html

      As you can see, it doesn't support transmitting - only reading of tags. That's it.

      The article is about NFC transmission support in Gingerbread.

    • http://www.androidpolice.com/author/jaroslav-stekl/ Jaroslav Stekl

      Never said the chip won't be two-way. All I'm saying is that this two-way functionality won't be supported in Gingerbread.

      • John Doe

        JS: "All I’m saying is that this two-way functionality won’t be supported in Gingerbread."

        You have no credibility whatsoever.

        http://android-developers.blogspot.com/2011/02/android-233-platform-new-nfc.html

        • http://www.androidpolice.com/author/jaroslav-stekl/ Jaroslav Stekl

          Um, dude. The update to 2.3.3 (which added NFC read/write support) was released TODAY (2/9/11). This article was written on 12/7/10, as was my comment above. How could I have possibly known about 2.3.3 at the time of writing? Updated the post, anyhow.

  • Eggcake

    True. It's just about the Tags application and a short description of NFC - nowhere does it say it will only work one way, no matter what application you use.

    • http://www.AndroidPolice.com Artem Russakovskii

      See the comment above with some more details on NFC support in Gingerbread.

  • jason

    it's fairly simple to put a sticker or case on your phone with the same chip that's embedded in credit cards. a programmable chip is nice, but it really doesn't seem like that big of a deal. the more interesting piece to me is if you can scan the chip in a credit card and do a payment.

  • http://www.AndroidPolice.com Artem Russakovskii

    Post updated with some NFC API info.

  • http://techbh.com.br Claudio Bastos

    I believe that Google is just teasing the market for them to think about the possibilities of this technology.

    There is still a huge amount of work to be done with regard to the privacy and safety of this technology, because in a way, your credit card will be more exposed. Subject to several attacks that compromise the use of technology.

    Imagine if, even with your phone inside your coat, someone stole your money just staying next to you.

    Enable reading, right now, is a safe step to help evaluate how things will grow

  • max

    I like the new tagging system. I bet it will be integrated for 4square...

  • zebrapoon

    Someone should port LibNFC to Android and get ahead of the Google curve.
    Oh wait, no microSD slot - forget about rooting and owning NFC for read/write.

  • Steve

    If anyone who was looking forward to building an NFC app on Android is disappointed by lack of transmission capability, contact me as I am looking for a developer to build an Android app which only requires handset to be able to scan NFC chips.
    @visionlab or email me visionlab[at]reddevil.oib.com

  • http://codereadr.com Rich Sr

    For us, read-only is fine for now since that's how our apps work currently with 2D barcodes (real-time validation of tickets, etc.). Finally,though, passive and active NFC would be ideal.

    I agree with Alex's comment about security - it seems best never to expose CC or other personal data whenever possible. However, the transmitted data from NFC (or presented as a barcode) should be dynamic (token).

  • Silver Fang

    Wow. Major suckage about the limitation of NFC under Gingerbread. I was looking forward to being able to swipe my Android in front of a code and have the payment instantly made. I hope someday this country will emerge from the Dark Ages.

  • Asif

    If this support is not given by Gingerbread then can someone tell what it will require to put the support yourself into the Gingerbread as it is open source.

  • John Doe

    This article is complete BS. 2.3.3 now has read/write capabilities.

    http://android-developers.blogspot.com/2011/02/android-233-platform-new-nfc.html

    • http://www.androidpolice.com/author/jaroslav-stekl/ Jaroslav Stekl

      Nope, the article isn't 'complete BS'; it was just written on 12/7, the day Gbread originally came out. The update to 2.3.3 (which added writing/transmitting capabilities) was released today, so there was no way I could have known about it three months ago. Updated the article, anyhow.