Android Automation with NFC
Posted by Todd E. Grady
I recently switched from iPhone to Android, and one of the features that I was looking forward to playing with was Near Field Communications or NFC (Sorry iPhone users, even the iPhone 5 doesn’t have NFC). NFC is a short-range wireless communications system that allows data transfer between devices at very close range. You’ve probably seen it in Samsung commercials where concert goers are sharing pictures by tapping their phones together. NFC is also being adopted for use in payment systems where you tap your credit card or phone on a reader.
NFC equipped phones are also able to read and write data to and from NFC tags. NFC tags are small, passive devices that can store small amounts of information that can be read by NFC equipped devices.
What has me geeking out is the idea of using NFC tags to automate certain activities with my Android phone. I purchased a few NFC tags from Tagstand to play with. Tagstand sells several varieties of tags and has developed two free Android apps to use them, NFC Task Launcher and NFC Writer.
The tags arrived a few days after I ordered them. I ordered two styles, they’re identical inside but some are plain and some have the tagstand logo printed on them. Each tag can hold 144 to 1,024 bytes of data depending on the type, I got the 144 byte ones to play with. That doesn’t sound like much when we usually talk about mega, giga or even terabytes, but we’re not looking to store huge amounts of information here, just some simple command strings, so no need to worry.
I programmed a total of 2 tags to start, one is in my vehicle, the other in my house where my phone usually sits. They’re both set up to toggle between two sets of system settings. Let’s start with the one at home.
I cranked up NFC Task Launcher on my phone and selected New Tag, here you can choose from 7 different options. I selected New Task from the list, renamed it to Home Again and proceeded to populate the list using the Add Action button. I added six actions to this task, I wanted to enable WiFi and disable Mobile Data to force my phone to use my home network instead of wasting my mobile data plan. I also disabled BlueTooth and set my alert and ring volumes to a middle level. After entering all of the settings, I touched Next. This saves the Task but I don’t want to write the Tag yet so I navigated back to the main menu and repeated the steps to create a Task called Going Mobile. In this task, I disabled WiFi and enabled Mobile Data. I again specified to turn off BlueTooth and set the volume levels to a mid level. I’m going to use this task again later so I wanted to specify those settings.
Back at the main menu, I chose New Switch. This gives the option to choose two tasks that are already written. The resulting tag will toggle between the two groups of settings. I chose Home and Going Mobile. Now when I hit Next, I held one of my tags to the back of the phone to transfer the command sets to the tag. Done!
I stuck the tag under the cabinet where I charge my phone. When I walk in the house, I unlock my phone, touch it to the tag and I’m all set for home use. On the way out, I touch the tag again and I’m ready to roll.
I wrote another Task called On The Road Again to set the options I wanted while driving. I set all alerts & ringtones to max volume and set the media volume to max which works the best when I have my phone plugged into my stereo. The task also turns WiFi off, BlueTooth on and screen brightness to automatic. I programmed a tag to switch between On The Road Again and Going Mobile. I placed it on the bottom side of the panel just in front of the cup holders in my truck. Tap when I get in, tap when I get out.
There’s lot’s more that you can do with these tasks, you can set your alarm, change screen timeout and more. NFC Task Launcher can also initiate a telephone call or send a pre-formatted text message. When paired with an app called Tasker, you can write complex scripts that are kicked off with an NFC Tag.
There’s also some simpler uses for the Tags. Program one with your contact information and use it as an electronic business card that transfers your info to someones phone with a tap. Set one up with your home network’s SSID and Password to allow friends to easily join their devices to your WiFi. Set one to check into FourSquare when customers tap their phones on a sign at the register.
Using NFC is still a bit on the geeky side of the house. It’s fun, but not quite mainstream yet. I don’t think that it will be heavily adopted until it’s included on more devices, especially on Apple devices. There also may be some security concerns, but the range limitations mitigate many of those risks. If you have a phone that supports NFC, order a few tags to play with. You may find them useful and you might even have a little fun!
EDIT: I also recently played with another cool NFC app. Check it out. AnyTAG NFC Launcher