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Gadgets

Air Button adds shortcut buttons to the back of your phone

These small stick-ons can be programmed to perform any of over 30 tasks. And they don't require power.

When you think about it, there's a lot of unused space on the back of your phone. So why not put something useful on that empty slab of case, like a couple buttons that can instantly perform common tasks?

That's the idea behind Air Button, an NFC-powered shortcut button that can be configured to do all sorts of things: call a contact, turn on the flashlight, run an app and so on.

Sound familiar? You may be thinking of Dimple, a similar product introduced in 2014. Or even the Cliq, a smartphone case with embedded NFC buttons. The latter didn't hit its Kickstarter funding goal and seems to have vanished, while Dimple is now a shipping product. And still fairly similar.

Peel-and-stick NFC buttons? Yes, please.

Air Button

Like Dimple, Air Button is an adhesive button (or pair of buttons, depending on which version you choose) that pairs with your phone (Android only, alas) via NFC. That short-range wireless tech is also what supplies power, meaning the buttons themselves require no batteries.

From there, an app lets you configure one or more functions for each button. Thus, you could program one to turn on the LED and snap a photo, make an emergency call or whatever. You do have to turn the screen on before any of the Air Button functions will work, otherwise there's a risk you might "butt-dial" one while your phone is in your pocket. (The buttons would also consume too much power if they were active all the time.)

According to the developers, Air Button offers a more tactile feel than Dimple and better NFC range (meaning you should have a bit more flexibility regarding where you stick the button). But there's a similar limitation: Although it can work with most NFC-enabled phones, even those in cases, metal sours the deal. If your phone or case is made of metal, no Air Button for you.

Everyone else, have at it! Air Button is seeking $15,000 in Kickstarter funding, with delivery expected in December. There are a handful of early-bird single buttons for $15 and doubles for $19, though a company rep said the retail prices post-campaign will be $16 and $21, respectively. So there's no great savings by becoming a backer. Of course, if not enough people support the Air Button, it might not make it into production.

Me, I love the idea. I just wish I could get an Air Button, Dimple or the like for my iPhone. (I know: Apple's fault.)