12
Apr
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More and more devices are becoming available with NFC - but what does that actually mean? First and foremost, NFC stands for near field communication. Basically, when you get your device close enough to something equipped with NFC - like a tag or a mobile payment center - it invokes an action on your device. Google Wallet is a perfect example of NFC in mainstream use; simply touch your phone to the payment terminal and the rest is done for you.

There are more practical applications to using NFC than just Wallet, though. Another good example of this is a feature in Android 4.0 called Android Beam. This allows two NFC-equipped phones to send data to one another simply by tapping them together.

Another fantastic, and much more customizable, use for NFC is the ability to write (and re-write) tags used for executing user-specific commands. One provider of such tags, Tags for Droid, offers incredibly affordable tags - only $11 for five, $16 for 10, or $26 for 20 - with a nice little Bug Droid logo on them. Perfect for showing your iOS buddies what's up with NFC.

I've been using these NFC tags to automate simple tasks for the better part of a month now, and I have to say - it's pretty great. I also use Tasker for certain things, but when combined with the power of NFC, the pair can accomplish nearly anything.

With that, let's take a closer look at the apps that I use and how I have my NFC tags setup, shall we?

IMG_0702

The Apps

First things first - you need an app that can create tasks and write them to the tags. This is really where the first quirk comes into play; with Android 4.0.2 (current stock on the LTE GNex), you actually need two apps. One to format the tags, and another to create them. While this is an issue that I encountered, it has been remedied in Android .4 (which should now be available on the GSM variant, as well as the Nexus S/4G).

TagWriter

Screenshot_2012-04-11-16-19-08 Screenshot_2012-04-11-16-19-54 Screenshot_2012-04-11-16-20-03

I use TagWriter for one reason, and one reason only: to format the tags.

Of course, that's not the only thing TagWriter does - it can actually write tags, too (hence the name). It's just not as full-featured as the main app used for writing...

NFC Task Launcher

Screenshot_2012-04-11-16-26-21 Screenshot_2012-04-11-16-26-48 Screenshot_2012-04-11-16-27-03

As you can see, I've already setup a few switches here. What's a switch, you ask? In a nutshell, it's a command that you can write to an NFC tag. For example, you can write an "intro" switch that, when tapped, executes a certain command (or series of commands). Then, if you tap the switch again, it can execute a different command (or series). We'll get into that a little bit more later.

Anyway, back to the app. NFC Task Launcher is a very easy-to-use app for writing data onto the NFC Tags. It can write a number of toggles, including Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and airplane mode; as well as change sounds, volumes, and vibration settings; modify alarms, toggle tethering, check-in with social apps, Tweet something specific, launch applications, modify display settings (brightness, etc.) and even execute Tasker tasks (which is awesome).

Now that you know what we're using, let's take a closer look at the tags and how they work, as well as some simple tasks that I use everyday.

Video

The Tags

IMG_0700

As I mentioned earlier, my tags came from Tags for Droid. They're a bit larger than a quarter and adorned with our favorite mascot (white ones are also available), so they're small and show Android pride at the same time. #winning

The tags have an adhesive backing so you can stick them in whatever location is most convenient. If, however, you need them to be more 'mobile' or you may not want them in the same location all the time, you can always stick the tag to a piece of cardboard (or something similar) and make a hanging tag similar to Sony's Xperia SmartTags.

Specs:

  • 1K MIFARE compatible NFC Tags
  • 13.56 MHz
  • Rewritable, lockable
  • Range < 0.2m (~8")
  • 3M adhesive backing
  • 30mm disc (about the size of a quarter)

I've setup my tags to perform relatively simple, yet incredibly useful tasks. Here is a look at three examples tags that I use on a daily basis, as well as how they're setup.

Bed Time!

Screenshot_2012-04-11-16-50-33 Screenshot_2012-04-11-16-55-35

Obviously, this is the tag by my bedside that I hit before going to sleep and when I wake up. First, it changes my ringtone to something a bit more... subtle (I normally switch between the chorus of Demon Hunter's The World is a Thorn and The Devil Wears Prada's Escape as my normal ringer, neither of which are pleasant to wake to in the middle of the night), as well as turning the ringer and notification volume down to 2 and enabling auto-brightness. Like I said - it's a simple task, but to do those things manually would be far more tedious than tapping a simple tag.

When I wake up in the morning, I simply tap the tag again to execute the second switch. That launches my 'Home' profile in Tasker, as well as sets the brightness to 40-ish (which is where I leave it most all the time) and sets my ringtone back to whatever it was before initiating the first trigger.

It's so simple, yet so useful.

Going Ridin'

Next up is the tag on my bicycle. I usually like to start my day off with a ride, so having a tag that toggles some radios and launches some apps is a must.

Screenshot_2012-04-11-17-06-08 Screenshot_2012-04-11-17-06-23

As you can see, my phone is a key part of my morning ride. After hitting my bike tag, I drop my phone into my bar-mounted phone holder (review coming soon), turn on my Bluetooth earbuds, and I'm ready to hit the pavement. I don't like to be bothered with notifications or calls (but I still want to know when they're incoming), so those volumes get dropped.

With all of the volumes, brightness, and radios just the way I like them, Move! Bike Computer is launched and I start to record my ride. What used to take several minutes to set up before I got started with my morning workout is now just a simple tap. And it's awesome.

Once I get back home, I tap the tag again , executing the second switch. Once Wi-Fi turns on and connects to my home network, a Tasker task is executed that changes the ringer and notification volumes back to 4 and disables vibrations. Really, the only thing that I have to do manually is end recording in Move! and exit the app. I can live with that.

In the Car

Screenshot_2012-04-12-11-46-53

This one is the simplest of all the tags I have, and it's the only one that doesn't have a multiple switches. I usually tap this tag before I even leave the driveway, so it disables Wi-Fi, turns the media volume up to 13, and launches Google Music. I don't use Navigation a lot, so that would be a superfluous feature to add; however, I may create a second switch on this tag that would launch navigation and a few other things for those instances when I do need directions.

Since I use Tasker to automatically turn Wi-Fi on when I get home and launch a specific task as soon as it's connected, there is no reason to add a second "I'm home" switch for this tag.

Conclusion

As you can see, NFC isn't just a novelty feature. There is real practical application involved here, and when combined with the power of Tasker, there are few limits to what you can actually accomplish. The examples I've given are among some of the more basic ideas, but if you have an NFC equipped phone, I highly recommend picking up some tags and experimenting.

Buy/Download

If you want to pick up some tags of you own, you can get them here.

Cameron Summerson
Cameron is a self-made geek, Android enthusiast, horror movie fanatic, musician, and cyclist. When he's not pounding keys here at AP, you can find him spending time with his wife and kids, plucking away on the 6-string, spinning on the streets, or watching The Texas Chainsaw Massacre on repeat.

  • Bo

    Oh wow. I had no idea you could make your own tags and use NFC for anything other than paying for fuel at the pump or paying for food at the register. NOW I will make sure my next phone has NFC. NOW I'm pissed my Sprint SGSII doesn't have NFC. This just looks fun. I'll put tags on EVERYTHING.

    Also, what kind of bike do you ride?

    • Cameron Summerson

      It's just a low-end Schwinn flatbar road bike for the time being. I wasn't sure if biking was something that I would really stick with, so I didn't want to spend a lot to start off.

      I've only been riding for a few weeks, but I'm really digging it so far - it's so liberating. Eventually I'll pick up something higher-end, as well as a mountain bike so I can hit the trails.

      • Bo

        Very nice. I did the other way around, bought the mountain bike first. Now I may pick up a bike for around town. Bout to go for a ride myself. Safe riding dude.

  • evcon

    Tagstand, the maker of the NFC Task Launcher app, sells tags as well for cheaper :) http://www.tagstand.com/

    • Bo

      nice. $15 for 15 stickers. CHEAP. Like I said above, I'll be sticking tags on everything.

    • Lbaker98

      The tags in the NFC Task Launcher Starter Pack are not compatible with Galaxy Nexus. 

  • Will

    I would just use Tasker to write even more powerful commands!

    • Richard

      NFC Task Launcher will also let you run any Tasker tasks you have set up from what I understand. Just received a pile of NFC tags from Tagstand the other day, haven't had much of a chance to play around with them yet :)

  • https://twitter.com/#!/psycho_maniac_ Jerry Lange

    wow this is awesome! I know some tags i can create when leaving my house or entering my house. also i would just make random tags and stick them randomly around town! thanks for the video!

  • j

    is there an app to actually CLONE a tag?

  • Bionic Beast

    This is friggin EPIC!

  • Kelson

    Just came to say, I love you more now that I know you're a TDWP fan.

    • Cameron Summerson

      One of my all-time favorite bands, actually. I could listen to the Zombie EP on repeat for days and never get sick of it. Those guys are incredible. :)

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

        You guys should have a cave you can both hang out in. And preferably never come out.

        • Kelson

          Ouch. Why is that? For liking the band?

      • Kelson

        Yeah, Zombie was incredible. Their new stuff is good too. But Zombie was the best mix of their old and new style.

      • Travis B

        Demon Hunter and TDWP?? You're a good man.

  • SHADOW

    looks so cool, thanks for article, had no idea I can do this, great idea, going to order 10 or 20 :P

  • John

    Do you have a password or PIN on your phone? The reason I ask is that I have read that NFC on the Galaxy Nexus is not activated if the phone is locked, hence defeating the purpose of automation. I don't want to have to unlock my phone everytime I want to scan a NFC tag.

    • Cameron Summerson

      I don't have a password or PIN, and can confirm that tags will not be activated if the display is off and the phone is locked. This is actually less of an issue than it sounds (for me, anyway), as I'm usually using my phone when I need to hit the tag anyway.

    • Drzcyy

       install "Biwota Cerbero" from the Google Play. It's a free app, btw

    • Bill B

      My solution here is to install "Hidden Lock Pro." They have a free version too. I use the "shake to unlock" setting instead of a PIN or pattern. So, when I want to use the phone, I just turn the screen on and shake it. Works great when you only have one hand. (You can set how violently you have to shake the phone to get it to unlock.)

  • Dan

    I've been using NFC Task Launcher since I got my Galaxy Nexus. Thanks to that and a little hacking, I was able to put a tag in my dash mount that deactivates wifi, enables Bluetooth, turns the ringer up, and launches Car Home (which isn't really available for the GNex, but like I said, a little hacking). I've also got one set on a wall at home that takes my phone out of silent mode and connects my phone to my wireless network instantly. Near total automation for the win.

  • stevecs

    I have been using the ones that came with my Xperia S and I must admit I have found them more useful than I thought I would. I have the usual set ups

    1: At home behind the front door. I walk in and tap Wifi On Bluetooth off Gps off etc

    2: Bedroom Silent on Alarm on etc

    3: car Bluetooth on wifi off GPS on etc

    You get my drift but I have found them really useful and hope to pick up a few more for work etc.

  • Matt

    freaking awesome. whoa.

  • Andrew

    wow, I actually knew about NFC tags before you guys made a big post about it :) that doesnt have too often.

    Ive been using tags with my Galaxy Note for the last month or so. here are a few that I use quite often.

    Car Switch - when i touch the tag:
    -bluetooth on
    -screen timeout goes to 30 minutes
    -media volume goes to max
    -launches Play Music

    when i touch it again:
    -turns off bluetooth
    -sets screen timeout and volume back to normal
    -kills Play Music

    PS3 Controller Switch - (tag on the back of my PS3 Controller) first touch:

    - input select menu pops up, so i can choose the SixAxisController
    -SixAxisController App launches and starts the service
    - Custom Emulator Selection Menu pops up, prompting the user to choose an emulator

    when touched again:

    -kills SixAxisController Service
    -Kills emulator and returns to home screen
    -input is auto set back to my keyboard of choice

    <3 NFC!!

    • spydie

      your galaxy note has NFC? ATT or international mode?

      • Andrew

        I have the AT&T Note.

        AT&T blocks it on the stock rom for some reason, so you can flash the tags.apk from the canadian note, and it will enable NFC.

        or if you flash the latest ICS Alpha rom, it is enabled.

  • Bo

    So if NFC is always running for automation, it's always searching for a tag contact, how does it do on the battery?

    • Joshua

      It has essentially no effect on battery life. It's off whenever the screen is off and the power consumption is very low when on.

  • Awesome Sauce

    Damnz. I did this awhile ago from NFC tags from Tagstand, I shouldve written a story about it. *Palm to face*

    I put a tag by my front door that turns off wifi, turns up my ringtone to max, and launches the subway train status app.

    You could also put them at commonly checked in spots for foursquare so you just tap to check in.

    Putting one on the door jam of your car to launch your car apps is a stellar idea. You can do switch actions that turn off all the launched apps when you touch the NFC sticker again.

    Ideally though you should skip all this and get an automation app that completes based on location. When you enter the house the phone does x, y, z. When you walk into your office your phone does a, b, c. The future is here now!!!

    • Sinistar83

      Awesome Sauce, I've been using Llama that an automation app that completes based on locatio, though it uses Cell towers instead of GPS, it works pretty well.

      https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.kebab.Llama

      I may have to get some NFC tags like this and try it for the car, to automate stuff like automatically launching Waze when I put the GN in the windshield mount. :)

  • Ryan

    Are the tags programmed to start a task specific to your phone or will they work on another phone? You mentioned having a "check-in" for customers but it seems like a lot of this is specific to your phone running the app.

    • Cameron Summerson

      Once the tag is written, it will work on any NFC capable device.

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

      Think of them as QR codes - they just contain little bits of information, and whether you scan a QR code via your camera or an NFC tag via your NFC reader, the end result is the same. NFC tags can contain more info though.

  • http://gundamaustralia.com Cameron

    thats awesome i didnt no it was so easy to get tags etc going ordering now for sure

  • Rogue2204

    A fellow demon hunter and Android fan, hip hip hooray!

  • levelm

    Thanks for the great write up! Many people have been curious about this subject. Thanks for taking the time to explain it.

  • SirAndroidMonkey

    That was an awesome write up and I will definitely be trying this. Just out of curiosity what apps do you have installed? some of them looked interesting. Thanks!

    • http://facebook.com/chonga89 Alice

      I have the same Apps as the ones mentioned above : NXP Tag Writer and NFC Task Launcher. Both are awesome!
      I also use an App called GoToTags. This one is great for encoding simples things like URLs, text, and email.
      I got my tags from buynfctags.com.

  • Jamie Sidford

    Anyone know a good place to get some tags in the UK?

    • Rhedgehog

      Rapidnfc.com

      They have them ranging from 48p each upwards (when you buy 10 at a time).

      • Matt

        I noticed most of the ones there are NTAG203 or ultralight spec tags with lower memory than the 1K ones shown in the article. Would this restrict storing commands such as those shown in the article?

        • http://www.NFCzone.net Lasse Laursen

          Ultralight C tags got 144 bytes memory after formatting.

          Ultralight tags got 48 bytes memory after formatting.

          However the commands are rather small, using i.e. NFC Task Launcher, so it's no big deal really. No problem writing multiple actions to Ultralight tags.

          The Ultralight tags start to get a little bit too small, when writing long URL's og full Business Card info to 'em :)

          -
          Lasse Laursen
          NFCzone.net

        • Joshua

          No, NTAG203 and Ultralight C have 144 bytes of space. Most commands take 3-5 bytes. Commands that need to store text (starting an app, loading a URL, configuring a wifi hostpot) need more for that text.

          Generally 144 is plenty with 27 bytes going to the NDEF header and info and the rest to storage.

          I don't recommend Ultralight tags as they will really limit what you can store (UltralightC/NTAG203 and up should be fine though).

        • http://www.NFCzone.net Lasse Laursen

          Too slow josh ;)

  • Colby

    Any way to send a text message with one?

    • http://www.NFCzone.net Lasse Laursen

      Yep. :)

      -
      Lasse Laursen
      NFCzone.net

  • http://www.unfiedremote.com UnifiedRemote

    This is what i have done with NFC today:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rR5QIa11brc&feature=youtu.be

  • DTrain

    I have noticed that the NFC tags do not work as well with the Samsung extended battery that I got from Verizon. I am very dissapointed and I am going to talk to Sammy or Verizon soon.

  • FirefighterMatt56

    I know I'm a bit late on this but I have 5 tags on back order and going to pre-order the Evo LTE the minute it goes live. I need to come up with ideas on how to use these ^^

  • Andrés Arrieta

    Can you have it dial a short code say *3456 or #123# without using tasker?

    Now maybe I'm getting something wrong but: Apparently some people are making it take you to a Facebook page to like or to check-in foursquare. I can think of some malicious fun with that, is there a way to block that? 

  • Andrés Arrieta

    Can you have it dial a short code say *3456 or #123# without using tasker?

    Now maybe I'm getting something wrong but: Apparently some people are making it take you to a Facebook page to like or to check-in foursquare. I can think of some malicious fun with that, is there a way to block that? 

  • Andrés Arrieta

    Can you have it dial a short code say *3456 or #123# without using tasker?

    Now maybe I'm getting something wrong but: Apparently some people are making it take you to a Facebook page to like or to check-in foursquare. I can think of some malicious fun with that, is there a way to block that? 

  • mike

    in the video, why just toggle the wifi with just one task rather than writer a task to turn it on and another to turn it off

    • http://www.androidpolice.com/ Cameron Summerson

      Because my Wi-Fi automatically turns-on when I get home. 

  • Cartierglare

    Im on sprint and stock 4.04 do i just need to download the task launcher app??

    • Cartierglare

      sorry im not stock but the phone comes with 4.0.4 on it

  • CoZ

    I just purchased all this stuff to try out and finally got my tags in.  However, when watching the video here, you must be using an older version of NFC Task Launcher.  Because the steps I've tried to follow are different on this version.  I'm can't even figure out how to make a 'switch' because it's 100% different here then it is on this new version and I, apparently, am an idiot and can't figure it out by myself.  There is no "help" documentation on the NFC Task Launcher site.  Just outdated YouTube videos as well.  I'm stuck. I've got all these tags and the program and no ability to figure out how to do any of it.  Seeing as how this post is like months old, I doubt I'll get a response. Dang.

    • http://www.androidpolice.com/ Cameron Summerson

      Hey CoZ - NFC Task Launcher has indeed been updated since I shot this video. When you first tap "New Tag," there should be an option for "New Switch" on the following screen. From there, you should be able to create two switches for the same tag. 

  • Brian Knapp

    I'd like to know what Bluetooth earbuds you are using

  • Ajhsv_00

    What phones are capable how do I know if my phone can do all this too? HTC desire s. I'm new to all this stuff .

  • Elias

    I've heard you can actually save your wifi's ssid and password on a tag, so visitors just have to tap the tag and they connect to your wifi. Can anyone confirm this?

  • Striplar

    NFC Task Launcher comes up with the following message when trying to select GPS enable...
    'You are configuring a secure setting. This requires root access'
    The tag doesn't have control over the GPS on my Samsung S3
    It works with Bluetooth and WiFi so I have no idea why this should be different

    • http://www.facebook.com/nicolai.hansen.5496 Nicolai Hansen

      root your phone as it said.

  • Eloy Antunez

    I'd use the NFC tag at work to Launch Pandora! I'd use an NFC in the car to turn on bluetooth to connect to the truck's player! :D

  • Norbert Rovira

    Hi, I am working on a repository of tag ideas, usages and apps. Starting to collect ideas. It is a wiki so anyone feel free to contribute: http://nfcrecipes.wikidot.com/

    Unfortunately there is no easy way to share tag content, I believe, so keep them as description. Well NFC Task Launcher started testing something...but no access to the content.

  • StephoTheBesto

    That is incredible!!! I had no idea that was even a thing!

    What is the difference between creating a tag through NFC and making a QR code? Does a QR code only connect to text/hyperlinks?

  • dogulas

    Right now, you can get Google Now reminders when you arrive at a location. But it is limited to addresses. I want to get reminders when I arrive at my car (not once I have already started driving), or as I'm *about to leave* my house. NFC tags would provide this functionality.

    "Remind me to bring ______ [as I am leaving this morning](when I tap my phone on the NFC tag at my front door, or in my car)"

    • Bill B

      You can geofence in NFC Task Launcher too. You could set it to check when you leave your office building, maybe. I've not used it for something as sensitive as the distance between my office location and the parking lot, or if it would activate quickly enough for your liking. The only geofencing I do kicks in fast enough for my liking, but I haven't checked how frequently it does a check.

  • roborobo

    Any way to make a tag with geofence to lock /unlock phone? Do not see that as an activity. Tap would be okay as well.

  • Alex.Kim

    NFC Tag...How much?

  • Bill B

    My most used task doesn't actually use NFC at all. I have a task set up to check my bluetooth connectivity. When connected to my ear piece, media volume is set and then Pandora is started. When I disconnect, media volume is changed and Pandora is stopped (closed). I also have a geofence task that starts Hola when I'm in Canada (marked the area surrounding Toronto). It stops Hola when I exit this region.

  • Jack Newman
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