Android’s early adoption of NFC made the technology mainstream, but many Android owners still wonder what NFC is and what it can be used for. Here we answer those questions and explore how it works and how to activate it.
February 25, 2020
Since its introduction in 2012, most Android devices have come equipped with NFC, a non-contact, wireless technology. Operating at distances less than 10 cm and requiring very little power, NFC opens up a new way for Android devices to tap into physical things (pun intended).
To learn more about the “A to Z’s” of NFC, check out the NFC Guide.
Before we dive into what NFC can do, it's important to take a minute to understand if your Android device comes equipped with NFC. If you’re unsure whether your device supports the technology, check out Android NFC Compatibility.
Once you have determined if your device supports NFC, it's important to understand how to turn the feature on and off. Depending on the manufacturer, it’s possible your device supports NFC but, by default, came with it switched off in the settings.
Turning NFC on allows you to interact with NFC tags right from the home screen. In the event you want to deactivate NFC, follow the same steps you took above, and toggle the switch “off.” The main benefit of turning NFC off is to conserve battery.
To scan NFC, you must first ensure you have it activated on your device. Once it’s been activated, tap the back of your device to an NFC-enabled product. Depending on the make and model, your device’s NFC antenna might be located along the top, middle, or bottom of the backside of your device. If you are having a hard time finding the tap zone, try slowly moving your device along the NFC enabled-object until an interaction is triggered. Remember this orientation for the future to make scanning as quick and easy as possible.
Because NFC tags are lightweight, durable, and inexpensive they can be embedded into products that would otherwise have no digital connectivity. Products embedded with NFC provide the ability to drive to online content with just a tap, effectively connecting the physical and digital worlds.
This functionality opens up new possibilities where physical things can have an online identity. This identity is often referred to as an experience because it augments and enhances the experience of owning an item. Since experiences exist online, possibilities are nearly endless.
NFC is perhaps most well known for powering payment services like Android Pay. In this case, NFC works by emulating your credit card, generating a single-use transaction key that allows you to securely “tap to pay” at the register. Most modern Android devices support Android Pay with Samsung variants supporting Samsung Pay.
NFC is increasingly being used to streamline the pairing process for both Bluetooth devices and WiFi networks. For supported 3rd party devices, Android users can simply tap their phone to pair or connect, eliminating the need to manually enter a long WiFi password or Bluetooth pairing code. This is made possible by NFC’s ability to quickly and securely relay the appropriate connection information between devices and initiate a connection.
Android Beam makes it easy to share files with friends and family without having to utilize text or email. Android Beam utilizes NFC in its Peer-to-Peer (P2P) mode to exchange data between Android devices. It is most useful for transferring small files as NFC has a relatively low bandwidth connection compared to Bluetooth or WiFi.
To share data, both the sending and receiving devices must have their NFC and Beam activated. Neither device should be locked or asleep. Both devices should be held together, with the content to be shared open on the sending device. When the devices detect one another, you will receive both haptic and audio feedback. The sender’s device will then display a “Touch to Beam” notification at the top of the screen. The sender must agree to initiate the file transfer via Beam. A sound will signal its start. When the transfer is complete, an additional audio signal will confirm the transfer was successful.
Android devices lead the market in NFC adoption and functionality. With the ability to read NFC tags, Android users can leapfrog antiquated QR codes and tap into the future of things today. Card-emulation enables services like Android Pay and Samsung Pay, changing the game for mobile payments. Additionally, peer-to-peer mode makes transferring small files between friends easy and fun. NFC is poised to reach staggering numbers; as the number of devices supporting NFC and the number of NFC tags being put into products increase year over year, the number of NFC use cases too, will grow to match it.