GoogleIO suggestions for new NFC apps

GoogleIO is happening right now in San Francisco. On the agenda, there has been (only?) one talk on NFC in the Android track. During this talk, the speakers gave an introduction to NFC technology, but for someone who knows the basics on NFC, the most interesting parts were the demos, showing interesting NFC applications.

But first, let’s see what they have to say about the characteristics of NFC. I kinda like their presentation of things:

  • Low friction. The main advantage that they have been advertising. The idea is here that when you scan a NFC tag, the appropriate application is instantly launched, which is a much better user experience than using QR-codes.
  • Low range. Some good, and some bad. On the good side, the low range is a security guarantee: in order to start a NFC exchange, an attacker will need to be uncomfortably close to his victim. On the bad side, if you want to do something, NFC will be used to bootstrap, but another wireless connection (Bluetooth, WiFi) will need to be set up.
  • Low data rate. Not good, and another reason to switch to another wireless connection after bootstrap.

So, in Google IO, the main message is that NFC has “low friction” and allows developers to instantly start their application, based on a contextual information (a NDEF tag, or another phone in P2P mode). The examples for tags were basic but demonstrative, as they actually triggered an action (or at least, they tried to, because as usual in big conferences, network was a problem).

The P2P examples were even more demonstrative. The most basic one used NFC in a gaming environment: (1) take two phones on which the same 2-player application is installed, (2) start the application on one, (3) move the second phone in NFC range. Then, the magic occurs: the application is started on the second phone, and a Bluetooth connection is setup. The players can now start a new game and play. Now, that’s user experience.

This concept can then be extended, and this will actually happen in the next release (dubbed Ice Cream Sandwich, one of my favorite American junk foods). Then, some of the core applications will be NFC-enabled. For instance, to share a contact, simply open the contact, and have the recipient put his phone in range: the contact goes to the other phone. Same thing to exchange a URL, to confirm an appointment, or a few more things. Very impressive indeed, and for me, a whole new set of applications for NFC.

I kept one for the end. If we reconsider the gaming example, but the second player does not have the application installed, what will happen? He will be forwarded to Android Market, of course, to purchase the application. This just works.

Google even gets a reward for this: since both people exchanging data on a P2P NFC connection are likely to be connected to their Google account, such recommendations are really easy to track, or even to reward. More information for the Google database.

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