Along with dual core processors and 1080p video recording, Near Field Communications (NFC) has been one of the much talked about features to make an appearance on smartphones in 2011. NFC is not yet available on the iPhone and, even though it was introduced on Android Gingerbread phones like the Galaxy S2 at the start of the year, the technology does not really appear to have made much of an impact.
What is Near Field Communications? It is essentially a short distance wireless data transfer protocol – a bit like a more modern version of Bluetooth. NFC is already used in many systems across the globe including London transport’s Oystercard scheme. The main use that had been touted for NFC on phones was precisely this – as a method of mobile payment.
But with only a very small number of retailers joining in with such payment schemes at present, the age of using your smartphone instead of cash or a credit card for most of your purchases is a long way off yet.
However, Google’s recent announcement of Android Ice Cream Sandwich will introduce a much more useful NFC system that everyone can begin using right away. This system is known as ‘Android Beam’ and it will become available on Android Ice Cream Sandwich phones starting with the Galaxy Nexus due to be released shortly.
Android Beam works like Bluetooth in allowing smartphone users to share data between phones, although Android Beam is much more powerful and far reaching. Rather than going to your phone’s settings, activating Bluetooth, searching for other devices and then trying to determine the correct ID in a room full of Bluetooth enabled devices – Android Beam allows you to share data simply by tapping two Ice Cream Sandwich phones together.
Information that can be shared includes pretty much anything on your smartphone – music, videos, web pages or even contact details. This last one is a particularly great option to have. Although it seems like a minor ability of Android Beam, it will completely revolutionise the way people exchange phone numbers. No longer will you need to check and double check that you have entered the number correctly, Android Beam will copy it with 100% accuracy in a split second.
As an example, say you are watching an interesting video on YouTube and you want to share it with a friend you are with. You could send it via an email or maybe post it to their Facebook page – but both of these methods are long winded and involve the loading of apps.
Android Beam does not require you to load an Android Beam app to share the video. While you have the video open in YouTube, simply tap your phone against your friend’s and Android Beam will do the rest. You can configure Android Beam to require you to authorise the transfer. Because of this you do not need to worry about Android Beam being used for stealing data or installing malicious apps.
Using Android Beam couldn’t be simpler. You just place two compatible phones back to back and the Android Beam interface will appear on your phones screen. Tap the button and the YouTube video, music or web page you are viewing will be transferred over to the other phone. It is really that simple.