Developing apps with NFC

Published on Aug 29, 2014 in App Development

What’s NFC?

In a world where immediacy is everything, the advancement of technology goes hand in hand with the ability to create something that makes us move 'our' world with a simple touch or button. The idea of developing an NFC application responds to that interest, and it’s here where mobile devices come strong.

NFC (Near Field Communication) is a wireless technology that works in the 13.56 MHz wave, which doesn’t need any license to be used. Its transferring rate can reach 424 Kbit/s, so its aim is instant communication more than transmitting big amounts of data. NFC works by a swift tap against a sensor, and you have an immediate result: faster than a barcode scan.

The three main uses of NFC would be, firstly, identification (places where you can just tap your phone in front of a reading device, like bus or metro passes in many cities); secondly, collecting and exchanging data, like receiving information immediately. And finally, the most interesting one: contactless payments. It seems that this is going to be the payment method for the future, so people won’t need to carry lots of credit cards and cash in their wallets: they will be able to pay with their smartphones.


NFC’s pros and cons and developing possibilities

NFC’s strongest point is its communication speed; it is practically instantaneous, without needing previous pairing between devices. And it is the only technology available on smartphones that can secure a transaction because the chip acts in the same way a credit card does, securing the operation without going online. On the other hand, the main disadvantage is its short range (it works at maximum 20cm distances) but this isn’t really important given that it is intended for short-range operations.

But, is it worth creating NFC apps for smartphones? The debate is well mixed for both optimists and who believe that this idea is a complete failure. First, we must realize that the technology has not been fully explored and that while there are several companies interested in it, it’s a big bet on the future. Now, Apple finally seems interested in NFC, and iPhone 6 will include mobile payment. The company had already launched iBeacon, an application designed to achieve full integration between the phone, the user and its world. Visiting online stores and being able to buy, controlling the TV or the media centre are some of the features that this app offers. But the point is iBeacon combines NFC with Bluetooth, so this application doesn’t depend on the NFC, but also on the Bluetooth technology. Some Android and Windows Phone devices already include NFC, so from now, more than 90% of users worldwide will be able to pay with their smartphone. With the entry of giant Apple in the business, lots of enterprises will presumably become interested in the NFC technology, and developers will increasingly be interested in creating apps too.

The future of paying via NFC

In the US, we can find the only NFC-powered app, Google Wallet. It’s a mobile payment system that allows you to store credit, debit cards, coupons, etc. on your phone. With a simple slide across the screen, you can pay by tapping your phone at the checkout or send money to your friends. Although it had a doubtful start, the scenario is hopeful for Google Wallet. Google really wants NFC to become the next global standard for everything, from payment transactions to easy data transfer between devices.

Spanish bank "la Caixa" is the first in the world to have cash dispensers with NFC technology. In 2010, “la Caixa”, Telefónica and Visa made one of the biggest world trials using NFC for m-commerce. It was a six month test that took place in the Catalan town of Sitges. There, more than 1,500 customers of both mobile network operator Telefónica and “la Caixa” were equipped with Samsung S5230 NFC phones loaded with “la Caixa” Visa cards, and 500 merchants in the town were equipped with contactless POS devices capable of handling NFC payments. The trial was a great success, and at the moment, users can pay via NFC in more than 20,000 shops in Barcelona.

Joined with “la Caixa”, mobile company Orange offers a pioneer option in Europe: its users in Barcelona and Madrid can pay with their phones. The users’ data are stored in the SIM NFC card, so the payment is totally fast and secure. In Spain there’s more than 330.000 contactless TPV compatible with this service, which also works internationally. Orange is the global leader operator in NFC solutions and it has also launched the service in France, UK and Poland.

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