NFC is More than just a Wireless Barcode!

Why going beyond a UID based system is critical to your NFC product.Developing with NFC

A guest blog post by David Shalaby, Taptrack

Understanding the full capabilities of an NFC tag is paramount to unlocking the true power of the technology.  Too many times at TapTrack we see our clients simply using a tag’s unique identifier (UID) in conjunction with a cloud based system that handles all other functions. I can fathom this to a degree, since as an engineer I understand the temptation of the familiar. Solving a problem using a toolset you’re proficient with involves much less technical risk than learning a new technology you’re not certain has sufficient capabilities. This is how many developers see NFC, whereas cloud-based computing is something many are proficient with. A wide array of languages, frameworks, and libraries exist for such projects, with many best practices known throughout the developer community. Cloud-based backends still provide a crucial part of many NFC solutions, but their use should be restricted to functions that cannot be performed on an NFC tag and with data not required for offline operation.

For example, let’s say your product is NFC badges at an event or tradeshow, where scanning the badge with an app or reader would serve to gather contact information of an attendee.You could design the system to use a purely cloud-based approach, whereby the badge’s UID is mapped to a full set of contact information in a central database. The app would connect to query the required data. The other option is to store the contact information on the NFC tag before affixing it to the badge. Sure, you cannot fit as much information on the tag as you may like, but there is still enough room for the bare essentials such as name, company, email, and title. LinkedIn profile URLs and the like can be stored in the cloud. Should a connection be available, the app can augment the badge’s data, but with the basic information stored directly on the tag, this solution is not rendered inoperative if connectivity is weak or intermittent.  Relying on a UID-based system often makes strong and ubiquitous WiFi essential, something not likely at events or tradeshows. This offline operation is built into our TapLead app available on the PlayStore.

The challenge for many developers is finding the time needed to figure out how to write data to an NFC tag.  Although Android can write vcard NDEF records, this assumes the developer already understands what NDEF is, not to mention the overhead of a vcard is significant and not ideal for tags with limited memory.  Therefore, knowing how to write to the tag in a memory efficient way helps. A second challenge for many is choosing the appropriate tag type as there are many factors to consider, but in the end as long as you know the tag you’re working with and have the appropriate documentation regarding the tag’s operation you’ll be on your way.  Non-NFC forum commands specific to certain manufacturers are always easy to find on datasheets.

This is the inspiration behind the developer focused NFC technical training curriculum recently introduced by TapTrack.  We want to see the power of NFC unleashed beyond just a tag’s UID, and this course is designed to inform engineers, integrators, and technical managers about the true capabilities of the technology. Our hope is that this two-day course will help developers feel comfortable enough with NFC tag technology to go beyond the constraints of UID-based systems.

About our guest blogger:

David has worked in the NFC business for two years and developed numerous hardware and software implementations of NFC projects. He has extensive knowledge of the space both from a technical and business model perspective. Founder of the NFC startup TapTrack, David is recognized as an expert in NFC applications and has lectured at NFC educational events all over the United States and Canada. David holds an MBA from the Rotman School of Business (University of Toronto) and a BASc. in Electrical TapTrack is a full service NFC solutions provider with extensive experience and know how in both hardware and software NFC projects. They have a robust NFC cloud platform as well as their own innovative cloud connected and platform integrated wireless NFC readers. Follow TapTrack on Twitter: @Tap_TrackEngineering from the University of Waterloo.

TapTrack is a full service NFC solutions provider with extensive experience and know how in both hardware and software NFC projects. They have a robust NFC cloud platform as well as their own innovative cloud connected and platform integrated wireless NFC readers. Follow TapTrack on Twitter: @Tap_Track

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