What is NFC? Here’s everything you need to know

All of today's smartphones are equipped with NFC technology. Whether you realize it or not, your phone is likely using NFC right now. But don't worry -- NFC uses minimal battery and processing power while offering a host of benefits that improve your device's functionality.

Although it's widely used in peer-to-peer payment and data transfer apps, NFC has many more applications that can make your life easier. Read on to find out how you can fully take advantage of your phone's NFC capability.

What is NFC?

NFC stands for near-field communication, and it allows phones, tablets, laptops, and other devices to share data with other NFC-equipped devices easily. It evolved from radio-frequency identification (RFID) technology.

RFID is behind those security scan cards that get you into the office every day or bypass that tollbooth on your morning commute. NFC is very much like RFID, but NFC is limited to communication within about four inches, which is why you have to hold your phone so close to the contactless reader if you're using Apple Pay or Samsung Pay. Most people consider NFC's small radius a major security benefit, and it's one reason why NFC has taken off as a secure alternative to credit cards.

The technology can be used for more than buying coffee at Starbucks, however. NFC can also transfer data like videos, contact information, and photos between two NFC-enabled devices.

How does NFC work?

Unlike Bluetooth, NFC doesn't require any manual pairing or device discovery to transfer data. An NFC connection is automatically started when another NFC device enters into the previously specified four-inch range.

Once in range, the two devices instantly communicate and send prompts to the user. There's huge potential with NFC. Listed below are three major ways we already use NFC between devices.

NFC payments

Mobile payments

As consumerism gradually transitions to a cashless world, mobile payments have become a popular method of transaction.

With banks' cooperation and the biometric technology equipped on most modern smartphones, making a mobile payment is secure and convenient. Placing your smartphone within four inches of the contactless reader in a store will prompt your digital wallet or passbook to pop up and ask you to confirm payment. With Apple Pay, this means placing your finger on the home button, which houses the Touch ID function, or double pressing your power button to scan your face with Face ID.

It also works with Google Pay and Samsung Pay.

What is NFC? Here’s everything you need to know

Sharing between Android devices

When two enabled NFC devices are in range, a prompt will appear asking if you'd like to "beam" whatever content (videos, contact information, or photos) is on-screen to the other Android device. Android devices have been able to use Android Beam for a while now (since version 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich), but it's a little-known feature, which may be part of the reason that Google discontinued it. In Android 10, Android Beam no longer works, and Google is slowly replacing it with Nearby Share, but the rollout is slow.

What is NFC? Here’s everything you need to knowJulian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

NFC chips

These passive tags don't require power and can be programmed with apps like Tasker to perform certain tasks when scanned. For instance, you can put one on your desk, and with a quick scan on the tag, you can set your phone to vibrate, disable GPS, or enable only work-related notifications, among other options.

Which devices have NFC?

The list of NFC-equipped devices is growing every day.

To keep track of what devices are taking advantage of NFC technology, NFC World maintains a mostly up-to-date list of NFC-enabled phones. Many Android devices have NFC, and every iPhone since the iPhone 6 is also packing the feature.

Every iPhone since the iPhone 6

For a long time, Apple restricted NFC-equipped devices to make purchases. However, the latest batch of iPhones, including the iPhone 12, 12 Pro, 12 Pro Max, and 12 Mini, also support NFC tags through the Launch Center Pro app.

NFC was also added to the iPad range, starting with the iPad Pro, the iPad Air 2, and the third-generation iPad Mini, but those devices won't work with in-store contactless readers. For a full breakdown of all Apple devices that support NFC and their limitations in terms of Apple Pay, check out this Apple support page.

Every device running on Android 4.0 or later

If your device is running Android 4.4 or later, you can use Google Pay. If you have a Samsung device, you can also use Samsung Pay.

Android consumers who are using Android 4.4 to Android 9.0 can also use Android Beam for direct exchanges. With the program, you can swap a wide range of information-- including YouTube videos, contact information, specific webpages, and much more. Enabling this service is simple; to run Android Beam, first open your phone's settings.

For Samsung Galaxy S10, follow the pathway: Settings > Connections > NFC and Payment. Tap on NFC, and then scroll and tap on Android Beam. To further use this feature, you may need to place your phone near another device that has an NFC chip.

You'll see a message pop up on your phone asking you if you'd like to connect with the detected device.

What else can NFC do?

Digital wallets like Apple Pay, Google Pay, Samsung Pay, and more are just a fraction of what NFC is fully capable of. If you love music, NFC can help you connect your phone to speakers almost instantaneously. NFC tech has helped streamline public transport, as well.

Users can scan their NFC-enabled smartphones on buses or use them as metro passes. You can also add money directly to this virtual transport fund through an app, which can help save time during your commute and ensures you'll always have some cash to get where you need to be. This technology is capable of supporting loyalty cards, too.

And then, there's also always the option to implant an NFC chip into your body. Wild, we know. You can use NFC tags for tons of activities.

One way to explore this technology and what it's capable of, consider creating NFC coasters to grant visitors access to your Wi-Fi.

Editors' Recommendations

You may also like...