Tapping your phone on a console to pay for fries and a Coke is cool. Yet until the stars align, it's not how you'll be using NFC, the Near Field Communications standard that gets devices talking to one another quickly and in a very short range.
Instead of using NFC to replace your credit card, it will increasingly become your passcode, your key. Best of all, it can be used to program one tag with a certain set of instructions that can launch specific actions when read by another NFC-enabled device.
In other words, just one tap of an NFC smartphone on the right tag can launch an app or a map, and share photos and documents.
NFC has been sitting around in phones for years, waiting for people to figure out how to use its charms. At the recent CES and MWC, device-makers have begun showing more smartphones, laptops, cameras, and appliances built with an embedded NFC chip.
The problem is, some of these NFC-enabled devices just don't work. There are software and hardware hurdles to overcome, but for the first time since NFC landed on an unsuspecting phone, there's the real possibility for NFC pairing to meld into a way of life.
Here are the ways I'd want use the protocol. Some already exist in nascent or concept-only forms. Others are logical next steps that will take root if and when NFC use becomes much more widespread. And finally, there's the category that's probably flawed, but that's why they call it wish list.
1. Transfer photos, video, and music from any device
I take a lot of photos and screenshots on the different phones that I review. What I would love to do is initiate photo, video, and music transfers with a single tap on the laptop body or through a USB dongle.
While we're at it, let's throw NFC cameras into the mix. I love the idea of an Internet-connected camera, but I don't always want to upload a picture or e-mail it right away, especially if I'm using the photo as part of a larger project.
One tap is all it would take to kick off camera and laptop sharing.
Yes, Bluetooth 4.0 supports contact pairing, so that could be another option. Yet NFC is often used to very quickly initiate more complicated protocols to make Bluetooth sharing possible.
That's how Android Beam and Samsung's tweaked version, S Beam, are able to share multimedia from phone to phone.
NFC laptops already exist in the HP Envy 14 Spectre and Sony Vaio Tap. The problem is that they don't work very well. CNET editor Dan Ackerman was able to share a URL on the Spectre, but Rich Brown couldn't get beyond the pairing.
On the camera side of things, the Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS30 and DMC-TS5 will ship later in March with NFC enabled, though CNET hasn't had an opportunity yet to try it out (oh, but we will).
In addition to quickly transferring photos, NFC with cameras can help you share media directly with someone else's device (like another camera, or maybe TV.) Pair it with a phone and you can also use it as a remote control for the camera shutter button, which is great for self-portraits and group shots.
NFC is also starting to creep up in other appliances, too, like washing machines and other home appliances.
2. Control your car
There are already some cool, extremely useful proofs of concept out there, including a QNX-running, NFC-enabled Porsche Carrera at CES.
Drop the NFC smartphone on the central console or in a cup holder and a car can not only start charging your phone, it can also rapidly save your contacts to the address book and automatically set up a Bluetooth profile for pairing and playing your music through its speakers.
I'd love to push out map coordinates to your GPS system with the help of NFC.
The guys in CNET's Car Tech division thought up a few other great uses when awarding NFC as the most promising future technology.
Keyless car entry through a smart fob is terrifically convenient, but having a redundancy through your phone is a good backup if you need to get into your own car. Tapping the handle could launch a verification screen where you enter a code and start about the business of getting back into the driver's seat.
Similarly, if you live in a city like San Francisco where car-sharing is popular, you (or a car-sharing fleet) can use NFC to hasten unlocking the door for strangers.
3. Replace your ATM card, sometimes
Instead of inserting your bank card into the ATM, what if the tap of your phone (which you probably have in your phone anyway) launches your profile on the ATM screen. You'll still have to verify with your pin in order to see the menu, but the initial NFC handshake would pull up your saved details from the corresponding app on your phone.
I'm not suggesting that ATMs nix card slots altogether, but there's nothing wrong with having two ways to get started with your deposits and withdrawals.
4. Help you shop
There's already some talk of tapping a phone to an NFC tag at malls and supermarkets. I'm also envisioning that tapping strategically-located tags will surface a map of the mall, or list of stores.
In a supermarket, sporting goods store, or DIY home improvement store, NFC could pop up a mobile site that helps you locate items by aisle, track down a salesperson, and surface coupons or deals.
NFC is ideal for this ephemeral type of transaction. Why take the time to download an app with similar features for a store you visit once or twice a year?
5. Check you in
Your phone knows your name, your phone number (obviously), and probably where you live. That data is all stored within the address book.
It'd be wonderful to use those details to check yourself into appointments at hospitals, sporting events, concerts, the DMV, and airport kiosks.
Again, I'm not suggesting we dissolve the old-fashioned way, but a quick tap could get the ball rolling with our credentials while we take the next step to verification.
6. Stay on the side of convenience
One of the biggest items on my wish list is for consumer electronics-makers who implement NFC to remember the customer and make their requirements as few as possible.
NFC itself is a standard, yes, but will you only be able to take advantage of the tapping shortcut on your Samsung TV if you have a Samsung phone, or on an LG washing machine with your LG phone?
Will you have to download a specific app and open it every time you want to use NFC with something (thereby making it more of a hassle than a shortcut,) or will smart software authors also launch the app you need and get you started in the right place?
What about NFC tags?
NFC tags or stickers that you can buy already exist and they're great for triggering some kind of response on your phone, like turning on Wi-Fi and Bluetooth when you tag on in your home, or turning on the alarm and shutting off sound when you go to bed.
How to program your own NFC chips
However, I'm not talking about ugly stickers that get bent or lost, or that bear a company logo, like Samsung's TecTiles. What we're talking about here are smoothly integrated and embedded NFC transceivers that become a part of the way we shop, work, drive, and live.
With all the devices that are starting to receive NFC, and all the companies interested in turning a profit from this growing technology, I'm confident we'll see more and more practical and clever implementations soon. There will be kinks to work out, as there is with any new ecosystem, but we're on our way.
What do you want to do with NFC? Share with me in the comments below.
Smartphones Unlocked is a monthly column that dives deep into the inner workings of your trusty smartphone.