Knowledge Base

NFC Smartphone Tips: Automate Tasks, Read Your Passport & More

grand master

Many of the latest smartphones and tablets now come with NFC (Near Field Communication) technology. This allows them to communicate with other NFC-enabled tags and devices when in close proximity.


If you’ve got an NFC-enabled device such as the HTC One X, the Samsung Galaxy S III, the Galaxy Nexus or the Nexus 7, there are a range of cool things that you can do using your handset. This includes using NFC to automate daily tasks, reading your electronic passport and sharing photos with friends and family.


In this article, we look at some of the things you can do with your NFC-enabled smartphone and tablet.


1. Automating Tasks


NFC ReTAG.pngOne of the most useful applications of NFC technology is to automate tasks and activities based on other NFC tags. Many of us now regularly come across NFC-enabled cards in our everyday lives – for example your Oyster Card for travelling around London contains an NFC chip inside. Other cards that might also have an in-built NFC chip include your work pass, student card, library card, credit card and club membership card.


One of the useful features of NFC is that every NFC-enabled card contains its own unique identifier. This unique identifier can be read by any NFC-enabled smartphone and can be used to automate tasks on your handset. For example, you could set up your phone so that it will automatically go silent when you tap it onto your work pass. Alternatively, you could have your phone check the latest travel news and to send a text home when you tap it onto your Oyster Card. It is possible to do configure almost anything on your smartphone to occur in response to a NFC tag.


In order to automate tasks using your smartphone and NFC technology, you’ll need an application such as NFC ReTAG (free, Android). This application works with all of the NFC-enabled cards you currently have. You can also buy additional NFC sticker tags online for around £1 each: these can be useful to place in your car or around the home for additional home automation. These are a great alternative to more expensive manufacturer solutions such as Sony’s SmartTags and Samsung’s TecTiles.


Multi Modal.jpg

Using NFC technology, it is possible to set up your phone to check the traffic news whenever you tap it onto your Oyster Card.


2. Read Your e-Passport


Passport.jpgAs of March 2006, all British passports have been issued with an electronic NFC chip inside. This chip holds your personal information as well as facial biometrics and is embedded into the back page of your passport.


As e-passport chips simply use a NFC technology, it is possible to use your NFC-enabled smartphone to read your passport information. The NFC TagInfo application for Android can be downloaded for free from Google Play and supports e-passports. Simply place your NFC-enabled handset on your e-passport to download your personal details and photograph.


Note that for security reasons, e-passports contain some basic access control security. This stops other people from covertly reading your passport as they walk past. In order to read an e-passport through the NFC chip, you need to provide three pieces of information: your passport number, your date of birth and the expiry date of your passport. This information can be found on the inside back page of your passport and can be input into the application through the ‘Menu Button > Setup Access Keys’. Once configured, you will be able to access the electronic chip.


Wikipedia has a list of countries of the countries issuing biometric passports so you can check whether yours is compatible.

NFC Passport 1.pngNFC Passport 2.png
You can read the information from your e-passport with an NFC-enabled smartphone.


3. Share Photos, Videos & Business Cards


If you’ve got an NFC-enabled handset running Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich or Android 4.1 Jelly Bean, it will support the ‘Android Beam’ feature. This allows you to transfer multimedia files and information such as contact details by tapping your handset onto another enabled device. This is a fun and fast way to share photos and videos: when two compatible handsets are tapped on each other, Jelly Bean will use NFC to initiate a high-speed file transfer over Bluetooth.


Android Beam.jpg


Alternatively, owners of the Samsung Galaxy S III have access to ‘S Beam’ which allows file transfers at speeds up to 300Mbit/s. ‘S Beam’ uses NFC and Wi-Fi Direct technology.


4. Mobile Commerce with NFC


Google Wallet.pngWhilst there is currently no widespread commercial availability of NFC payments in the UK, there have been substantial amounts of work into integrating commerce and payments into mobile phones.


Consumers in the US can currently pay for items in-store using the Google Wallet application. In the future when Google Wallet or similar services are made available in the UK, it’ll be possible to pay for things in a shop or restaurant by tapping your handset on a reader at the till. This means faster payments without fiddly paper receipts to collate. It also means greater security compared to standard payments as your mobile phone can be secured with a security codes, facial recognition and can be remotely disabled in the event of loss or theft.


Your Thoughts & Tips…


In this article, we’ve looked at the ‘Near Field Communication’ technology which can be found in the latest generation of handsets. We’ve discussed some of the cool things you can do with NFC: from automating aspects of your everyday life to reading your passport information and sharing files and contact details with other people.


Are you excited about NFC technology? Which aspects of your daily life could you automate using NFC? Would you like to pay for things in shops using a NFC-enabled mobile phone or do you prefer using cards and cash? We’d love to hear your thoughts… please drop us a comment below and let us know what you think!


Ken Lo writes about mobile technology and the mobile industry at Ken's Tech Tips.

good one.

NFC is great loved the automatic task, Wish my S2 had it but by next year when I get my next phone it should be more widespread by then and should be able to be used in more places.


I knew you could do all this using NFC, besides the passport one; which is arguably the coolest!


Just downloaded the app to my S3 and it does something, I just can't work out how to put in the security info. 


Just a quick suggestion for you! Hyperlink the images in the future so they're linked to their full sized versions and open in a new tab, this will make it much easier for us to see the images properly.


Great blog


It'll be good knowing that if I've forgotten my wallet I can just get my phone out to pay for food and stuff. Technology is moving so quickly!


So lets look at these four uses (without the industry spin} in least useful order first -


2. Read Your e-Passport - A party trick (for sad geeks) that you will do once, whilst the other person tries to work out how to walk away from you.


3. Share Photos, Videos & Business Cards - They tried this with Infrared and Bluetooth. It never took off then due to lack of compatibility between the handsets, and you looked like a sad geek for even mentioning it. Meanwhile, there is now this strange magic thing called "The Internet", that allows you to share photos...


1. Automating Tasks - OK, so now I have to stick an NFC tag in my car to tell my phone I am in the car to turn on bluetooth, etc, rather than just press the car profile button? And I have to stick a tag at my office desk, a tag at home. Severe danger of sad geekness here.


4. Mobile Commerce with NFC - Looks a great idea, but do you really believe that everyone using NFC will sign up to the same standard so you can use your phone to replace everything.


Do you *really* believe it could replace your Barclays debit card, your Amex credit card, your TFL Oyster card, your Stagecoach bus pass, your National Rail NFC card (yes there will be different cards for train and tube journeys), your office door pass, your printer token. If you do I have some magic beans to sell you.


And if you are woried about forgetting your wallet, get a Barclays Paytag -


This was a great read. Though the idea of NFC being the complete solution for all money, cards, and identification, like passports makes me feel very nervous... Smiley Sad


Identity theft, just by being near somebody else's phone seems like a dream ticket to many ne'er-do-wells.


As long as the security can be sorted out, it could be a good idea? Time will tell...

head honcho
Tried to do set up an automated task using my Blackberry and my Uni card but it tries to write data to the NFC tag in the card which obviously doesn't work. Sigh.