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.
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!