A Common Misconception: NFC Is a Transport Mechanism

NFC-compatible-rfid-blogHas it ever come to your mind that it’s so difficult to transfer something from one phone or tablet to another via NFC? Isn’t NFC supported to make everything easier?

In the days before NFC, we had something called IrDA which allows you to transfer files at the speed of light! Infrared light, to be precise. But who knew that the speed of light was so slow! IrDA transfers took a long time, but with them you could “beam” your business card from one device to another very easily, as long as you were sending it to someone running the same OS. However, at that time most people were running Palm, so IrDA actually helped little to those running Windows CE.

Fortunately to those Windows CE users, someone wrote an app which enabled them to select a target device and format the content appropriately, so that they could send stuff to another Windows CE device, a Palm, or even an Apple Newton.

But when was the last time you saw an IrDA port on a phone or tablet? IrDA is dead, so has NFC replaced it?

It is commonly misunderstood that NFC is a transport mechanism. But it’s actually not. It’s more like a QR code that you can read without using your camera. QR codes can contain URLs, phone numbers or even business cards, yet things like pictures, music, videos and even documents are too big for it to contain. The same goes for NFC.

With NFC, you can trigger an activity in your phone or tablet and launch a particular data source in its default handler app on another device. Take an example. If you’re watching a video and want to share it with someone else, you can tap your NFC-enabled device to theirs, and theirs will “understand” where to get the video (from the Internet) so it can then play it, but it’s not transferring the video.

There are some things that you can actually transfer, like pictures. However, NFC isn’t carrying the image from the source to the destination; it’s just starting the transfer request. The transfer itself is handled by Bluetooth or others.

Android Jelly Bean uses NFC to start a Bluetooth file transfer, while Samsung’s Galaxy S III uses Wi-Fi Direct, which is a better transport mechanism than Bluetooth. Unfortunately, although the two methods are invoked the same way with the intent to accomplish the same thing, they are not compatible with each other. Besides, Windows Phone uses something else entirely.

And then there is another mobile phone maker giant who has yet to get into the NFC games — Apple. Probably it will think different rather than making their solution work with everything else.

At least we can still email stuff to each other, right?