Tim Supples

Goodbye QR Codes, Hello Near Field Communication?
Posted by: Tim Supples
Tuesday, May 10th, 2011


Another day, another technology being called “THE” thing to have this year. Discussion around Near Field Communication (NFC) technology in smartphones has been bubbling for months if not years, coming to a head recently with Google’s official support of NFC and their dropping of QR code support in the Google Places service.

NFC has the potential to be very useful for marketing and engagement, but is it all that different from existing solutions?

What is NFC?
Near Field Communication is a short range wireless technology that is based around a passive, non-powered source and an “initiator” device (i.e. your smartphone). The passive device is very similar to RFID, containing ultra-slim circuitry that is actually powered by the radio frequency field of your NFC-enabled smartphone.

When your smartphone is placed within 2 inches of an NFC-tagged item, such as a sticker or poster, the NFC technology in your phone reads information from the item. From there, the possibilities are endless and only limited by the services that choose to integrate NFC capabilities.

What can be done with NFC right now?
The big application that everyone is watching is mobile payments. With properly secured applications, you could purchase specific items or even pay at the register as normal just by waving your smartphone at a special pad or sticker. This has obvious benefits at a tradeshow or other type of event, providing a possible counterpart or even replacement to the Square mobile payment system I previously wrote about.

Google is hard at work creating infrastructure to support NFC use. They are working with VeriFone to test NFC mobile payment in New York and San Francisco. NFC tags have also replaced QR codes in their small business marketing kits, which are built around Google’s Places service that is integrated into every Google product (Search, Maps, etc).

Beyond the payment infrastructure and casual information transfer, NFC doesn’t have many practical marketing applications already created. The challenge is that this technology is just hitting mainstream and it seems most are still figuring out what to do with it, if anything. This means that if you want to do something with NFC beyond a web URL or other simple information, you’ll need to develop your own mobile software applications to suit your use case.

How is this different from using QR codes for marketing?
NFC offers many of the same capabilities that QR codes do, primarily centered around embedding important information like a web address or other pertinent text. This isn’t just limited to your www.yourwebsite.com though, as the creative ones will find more engaging uses.

These can be a URL that leads to a special discount page, a unique YouTube video designed just for the customers who scan that code, or any number of other engaging tactics. Due to how the phone “collects” these tags for reference later, a “scavenger hunt” type activity would lend itself well to NFC.

For marketing purposes, the difference between QR codes and NFC comes down to usability. If you hadn’t seen it yet, I covered all about QR codes extensively in a previous post. As noted there, one of the roadblocks to QR code usage is public knowledge about how to use a QR code and the software needed on their smartphone.

NFC removes most of that barrier. An NFC-enabled phone has the capability to react automatically to an NFC tag, with no manual action required by the user. However, users can choose to disable NFC and it is possible not all phones will have NFC enabled out of the box, so this is still not a truly seamless experience. Check out the video below for an idea of how NFC works in application.

The Challenges
While NFC is easier to use than QR codes, the general public will still largely be unaware of what it is or how to use it. You’re still going to have to have a little flyer in place at least telling people what to do, and include a “Works with NEW smartphones” disclaimer.

On that note, it is also important to mention that there are very few smartphones out currently with NFC technology. The Samsung Nexus S, designed closely with Google, is the prime example and more are expected later this year and in 2012. It is also unknown if the ever popular iPhone will get NFC in its next update.

How to get started
So you’ve decided that you want to give NFC a shot and you understand the basics of how it all works. To get started you need NFC tags, a device capable of programming the NFC tags, and the software necessary to program the tags. There are a handful of options for this, but again this is a new technology for personal use and its accessibility will change over time.

Our friends at ReadWriteWeb recently put together a post on how to write your own NFC tags, with lots of great resources. A popular vendor noted there is touchatag, who offers a few different NFC packages in their store to get you started as well. Either of these should work for most people’s needs, but if you come across another option or even a marketing firm that offers NFC as part of their services, drop us a comment!

How are you going to use NFC?
Now that you’re up to speed on NFC, how do you plan to incorporate this into your marketing, if at all? What are you excited or concerned about regarding NFC? Leave us a comment!
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7 Responses to this article

 
Anonny May 10, 2011

This post has been completely copied from http://www.eventmanagerblog.com/event-technology/nfc

Serioulsy you should make a better effort

 
Andy Schichter May 10, 2011

Do you think companies who use QR codes in advertisements will switch to NFC in the near future? With all the time and money they’ve spent investing in QR codes, I’m not so sure they will be willing to jump ship just yet. Also, like you said people don’t really know NFC, and QR codes are just becoming accepted by the masses. I think QR codes will be around for a while, but man does NFC look cool!

 
Reuben May 10, 2011

Interesting… I’d be interested to see if there are costs associated with creating a printable item with NFC capability, and interested to see if the NFC scanning tech is open-source or not – both will have significant impact on the adoption rate of users and app developers.

Like QR Codes, there’s going to be a cool-down period for some time before people get familiar with this, I’d give it 3 years before NFC becomes cost-effective as an option for corporate marketing spend.

 
Emily Breder May 12, 2011

All 3 have their uses and functions.

The main differentiator with NFC and RFIC is that both parties need equipment, plus proximity to one another. It removes the learning curve but not the adaptation curve.

With QR Codes, the recipient would need the app and a smartphone and a little know-how, but no additional equipment and can read the code from far away if they can get a good focus on it. It removes a level of physical requirements but not the learning curve or the adaptation curve.

It just depends on the needs of the activity, really. It does seem like NFC and RFID need more investment than QR codes, which uses the web and not chips.

This post was not plagiarized, by the way. Both posts the anonymous commenter mentioned were properly written and referenced. You can check this on http://www.plagiarismchecker.com/

 
Tim S. May 12, 2011

Andy – I think QR codes are still better suited for general advertising. QR codes can be put on anything, anywhere and as long as your phone’s camera can snap the whole code, it works! With NFC, you obviously have to be up close and its best suited for interactive situations.

Reuben – There are definitely costs with creating NFC, more than QR codes (since anyone with a printer can create a QR code). Though, as you see in some of the links in my article, the cost of the NFC tag kits isn’t bad. And as NFC becomes more mainstream, the costs will drop of course.

I’m not sure if you would categorize NFC as open source. Anyone with the right skills can develop mobile apps that use the NFC capabilities in a phone, which should include programming NFC tags.

Emily – thanks for the comment!

 
Tim S. May 13, 2011

For those interested in NFC, here’s an article with some information from Google’s annual trade conference called I/O.

http://androidandme.com/2011/05/news/google-will-take-nfc-to-the-next-level-with-ice-cream-sandwich/

 
Lionel Tepper May 31, 2011

Good article, and we agree. NFC is very likely to replace QR codes in the few years. We just published an article about it in relation to the advertising and digital out-of-home space. Here’s the link if you’re interested in learning more:

http://www.screenmediadaily.com/marketing-near-field-mobile-communication-nfc-nxp-digital-signage-out-of-home-place-based-media-advertising-bilboards-posters-0629908.shtml

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