The most practical, creative ways to use NFC with your Android device

NFC can be used for a lot more than just Google Wallet. Grab your NFC tags and try these creative ways to use NFC.

Sharon Profis Vice President of Content, CNET Studios
As the Vice President of CNET Studios, Sharon leads the video, social, editorial design, and branded content teams. Before this role, Sharon led content development and launched new verticals for CNET, including Wellness, Money, and How To. A tech expert herself, she's reviewed and covered countless products, hosted hundreds of videos, and appeared on shows like Good Morning America, CBS Mornings, and the Today Show. An industry expert, Sharon is a recurring Best of Beauty Awards judge for Allure. Sharon is an avid chef and hosts the cooking segment 'Farm to Fork' on PBS nationwide. She's developed and published hundreds of recipes.
  • Webby Award ("How To, Explainer, and DIY Video"); Folio Changemaker Award, 2020
Sharon Profis
3 min read

If you think NFC (Near Field Communication) is only good for Google Wallet or MasterCard PayPass, think again. With the growing number of NFC-equipped phones, NFC tags are becoming an increasingly popular way to take advantage of this sprouting technology.

Thing is, Android users aren't quite sure what to do with them.

Once you have a stack of NFC tags and have already learned how to program them, bookmark this page. It's an ever-growing list of practical and unique ways to utilize NFC tags, with ideas collected from forums, Twitter, and my own personal experience.

For a quick refresher on NFC tags, watch the video below, then read on for some NFC tag inspiration.

Watch this: How to program your own NFC chips

Situation-based profiles

Undoubtedly, the most common way Android owners are using NFC tags is to efficiently adjust a series of system settings based on the arrival or departure of commonly visited locations. Here are a few examples.

At home
Put an NFC tag near your door and set it to do things like: enable Wi-Fi, decrease brightness, disable Bluetooth, and auto-sync. Using NFC Task Launcher, you can program the tag to "switch," so that when you exit your house and tap the tag for the second time, it changes those settings (like disabling Wi-Fi.)

Driving in the car
Stick an NFC tag somewhere near your dashboard or middle console and have it disable Wi-Fi, increase volume, and enable Bluetooth (for a headset). If you have your phone hooked up to the car's speakers, program the tag to fire up an app like Pandora.

Getting to work
Place the NFC tag on a phone dock or your desk's surface and program it to decrease brightness, disable sounds, enable Wi-Fi, and enable auto-sync. Depending on your habits, you might also have it launch a music app, open your daily to-do list, and even check you into Foursquare.

If you use the Switch option, you can tap the tag again on your way out and have it disable the previously enabled features. And, if you're an extra attentive husband or wife, the tag can also be programmed to send your loved one a text message alerting them that you've left the office and are on the way home.

On the bedside table
If you have a phone dock by your bed (or want to DIY your own), place a tag near the dock and program it to disable sounds, enable any alarms, disable auto-sync, disable the notification LED, and decrease the brightness.

Working out
The fitness types might benefit from an NFC tag on their workout armband or gym bag. For zero distractions, program the tag to enable airplane mode. Or, use the tag to fire up your favorite fitness app and playlist or streaming music app.

Little-known uses and unique ideas

Give access to your Wi-Fi network
If you'd like to give guests at home (or at an office) access to your Wi-Fi network without giving up your password, check out InstaWifi. The free Android app lets you program an NFC tag that, when tapped with an NFC-enabled device, gives the phone or tablet instant access to the associated Wi-Fi network.

Download the app from the Google Play store to get started (link).

Auto-start timers
How many times have you loaded the washing machine, walked away, and completely forgot you were doing your laundry? Put an NFC tag next to your washing machine and dryer that, when tapped, fires up a timer.

Get shortcuts to specific Evernote notes
With Touchanote, a free app that won the Evernote Developers Competition, tags can be programmed to link directly to specific notes. Their examples include a tag on your desk that opens a to-do list, or placing a tag near a product that links to a note with instructions on how to use it. For more examples and the full walkthrough, check out the video on YouTube. You can download Touchanote from the Google Play Store now (link).

Thank you, Twitter user @anderdbergmark for the tip!

Quickly pair with a Bluetooth keyboard
I asked for your ideas on Twitter and user @litcritter suggested sticking an NFC tag on the back of a portable Bluetooth keyboard. Tap once to enable Bluetooth, and tap again to disable it when you're done typing. Neat idea!

NFC keychain
Stick an NFC tag on an existing keychain, or order a customized NFC keychain online, and program it to complete a task you often do on the go. This can be anything from putting your phone in hot-spot mode to firing up your favorite playlist.

Prank your friends
The least practical, but arguably the most entertaining application of NFC tags is for pranks and rickrolling. If an NFC tag that contains a link is scanned, the Android device will not ask for permission before launching the browser. Scary, right? Questions regarding security come to mind, but can you imagine the possibilities? Fellow CNETer Jeff Sparkman suggests, "Program an NFC tag to open YouTube and play the video for "Never Gonna Give You Up." Hide tag near your target. Hilarity ensues!"

Future possibilities

Since NFC is still making its way to the mainstream, third parties have not yet integrated the technology into many products or services. So far, Google Wallet is one of the only services that has invested in building an infrastructure that allows users to replace credit cards with NFC-enabled phones.

The challenge here is that creating such an infrastructure is expensive, takes time, and its success relies on the consumers' awareness of NFC. Even with all of Google's efforts, Wallet is still a niche product, mostly due to the lack of NFC-ready credit card terminals and NFC-ready phones and tablets.

Nonetheless, the excitement over NFC is building. Students, entrepreneurs, and manufacturers are already prototyping (and even selling!) NFC-based solutions that can make our lives easier. Here are a few examples.

Unlocking your front door
Surprisingly enough, this technology is already available, but has seemingly little adoption so far. Lockitron has developed an easy-to-install system that allows you to unlock your front door by simply waving your phone in front of the door handle. The barrier? Price. Lockitron is currently available for a cool $295. (To be fair, though, Lockitron also lets you remotely unlock doors, in case a family member or friend without keys needs entry.)

Bluetooth pairing
Soon enough, we might see Bluetooth or Wi-Fi speakers with NFC built-in. With that in place, a phone or tablet can be paired with a speaker by simply tapping the two devices. Hints of such a solution are creeping in, as Google's music streaming device, the Nexus Q, includes NFC, but the company has not yet revealed its purpose.

More secure online shopping
An interesting roundup from Geek.com dives deep into the future of NFC to discuss a handful of practical ways the technology could be integrated into our future lives.

One of the more compelling ideas is using NFC to propel more secure online shopping. In their example, a small NFC-enabled unit is connected to a laptop. Before the user can make a purchase, he or she must tap their NFC-ready credit card (or phone) on the attached unit. Then, instead of entering a PIN, the user would draw a gesture on their credit card (or phone) before finalizing the purchase.

There's a photo, complete explanation, and more futuristic NFC ideas on Geek.com's blog post.

Traveling with NFC

Last year, SAS Scandinavian Airlines introduced a "Smart Pass" pilot program to some of their frequent fliers by giving them custom NFC tags to stick on the back of their phones.

Those tags not only replaced their boarding passes, but also allowed them to access the priority security check, and even enter the VIP-style lounge.

In the future, when more consumers own NFC-enabled phones, airports, event centers, stadiums, movie theaters, and more, might invest in the infrastructure that allows users to forego paper tickets (and even avoid interacting with employees) and replacing them with the tap of an NFC phone.

Sound familiar? It's possible that Apple is cooking up such a technology. With the introduction of Passbook and rumors of an NFC-enabled iPhone, the future could come sooner than we think.

If you have additional ideas for NFC tags, please let us know in the comments.