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RapidNFC Blog

20 February 2015

As regular readers of this blog will know, RapidNFC get excited about all things NFC. We are privileged to get involved and provide products on a very broad range of projects. One area where the use of NFC Tags is growing rapidly is in the personalisation of products. The concept is simple - embed an NFC tag within your product to allow the user to interact with you and enhance the purchase and use experience.

Rocco P. Shoes

One great example of this is a company in Marche, Italy called Rocco. P. who produce handmade shoes. Since their latest season they have been incorporating NFC tags into a number of their shoes. As a small company, they take great pride in the history of their company and the influence this has on their footwear. To reinforce this, they use the NFC tags as a 'shoe passport' that confirms the authenticity of their product.

NFC Shoe Project
Customer Connection

By allowing their customers to interact with their product, not only does this assure their customers they are getting a genuine Rocco P. product, but it allows the company to provide more information about the production and heritage of the shoes. By scanning the shoe with their phone, customers can bring up www.roccop.it/reverso giving them information on the concept, development and construction of their shoe.

Brand Reinforcement

This interaction allows Rocco P. to project the uniqueness of their product, only made in Torre San Patrizio, to their end user. Ultimately, creating a closer bond between the customer, owner and uniqueness of the product they have purchased. Clearly, it also provides a shop window for the customer to view additional, new or other products available.

NFC Shoe Project Product Images
NFC Is The Link

Rocco P. is a brilliant and exciting example of smaller businesses using NFC to promote their uniqueness and heritage. It demonstrates the ways in which NFC is starting to enter all manner of mainstream products to aid authentication, brand reinforcement and information provision.

And importantly, it isn't just about the large companies. NFC is providing a way for smaller businesses to continue to build their brands. RapidNFC are currently working on a large number of similar projects and we know that the future in this area is going to be very exciting.

12 February 2015

RapidNFC are working with an increasing number of events companies and we have noticed the rapid increase in the use of NFC to make events more interactive and fun.

Christmas Fun

A great example of such a project was by a company called Aptriva a few months around Christmas time.

Christmas time can be a hectic time of the year, however one person is particularly busy. Santa can be seen just about everywhere: shopping centres, stores, parks, schools. Name a location, the likelihood is that Santa has paid a visit there at some point over the festive period.

All encounters with Santa around the Christmas period are special, however the children who visited Santa at his Grotto had a particularly exceptional and unique experience in which NFC played a significant part.

NFC Wristbands

Using RapidNFC wristbands, Aptriva provided a complete system for their client that enabled each child to have a completely unique and personal experience with Santa. Upon booking, parents were able to provide a variety of talking points for Santa and their child. These topics ranged from the child's hobbies, their favourite pop stars and bands, their favourite football teams, their school, their teachers, their parents and incidents of the child being 'naughty' or 'nice' throughout the year.

How NFC Was Used

Once the parents had provided the talking points online as part of the booking procedure, each child was given an NFC enabled wristband. These wristband were pre-encoded with all the information and talking points the parents had previously provided.

At the entrance to Santa's Grotto the children would 'wake up Santa' using 'magical props' (which happened to be discretely positioned NFC readers). As the readers scanned the wristbands, Santa's high-tech naughty or nice book would be updated with the parent's original talking points.

As the child entered the Grotto, Santa would have all the information he needed to have an in-depth conversation with the child about all their favourite talking points.

NFC Experience

As I am sure you can imagine the children loved the whole experience and were utterly amazed that Santa had paid so much attention to them this year. The whole project was a resounding success, and the NFC based system designed by Aptrivia gave each child who attended the Grotto a very personal encounter with Santa and some unforgettable memories.

We have a feeling that, given how useful Santa must have found the additional information provided prior to meeting the children, similar events will be just as successful next year.

05 February 2015

An article in NFC World recently caught our attention here at RapidNFC. It raises an interesting question: will NFC eventually replace conventional keys ? The article concerned lock maker Yale releasing an NFC lock for homes that can be opened with a tap of an NFC enabled card or smartphone.

Whilst this is relatively ground-breaking for private properties, hotels have been using NFC cards and even mobile phones to unlock doors for a while now. Hilton hotels are reportedly planning an initiative to allow guests to access their rooms via their smartphones in over 4,000 of their hotels. They also plan to let clients check-in via their smartphones using the same technology, allowing guests to go straight to their rooms upon arrival.

Certainly, the astonishing growth in NFC contactless payments has illustrated that people can adopt NFC technology very quickly where they see the benefits.

Convenience

There is a case to say that NFC smartcards and NFC mobile phones will, ultimately, replace conventional keys. From a purely practical point of view this makes sense. It would be a lot more convenient to have one NFC card rather than multiple keys. All you would need do is simply tap the NFC lock to gain access to any property your card is programmed to enter.

A huge benefit of this, asides from convenience, is the cost. Once the lock is installed, there would be no need for cutting keys or changing the unit when you move, lose your keys, etc. A new PVC or PET NFC card for less than 1.00 GBP/USD, a quick re-program and away you go. Additionally, if you were to lose the card the data could simply be stored securely online and another card can be reissued. A lot less expensive and time consuming than cutting keys. Of course, it would probably be a good idea to keep a spare card available in case of an emergency but enabling and disabling the spare would take just moments.

Then there's the added benefit of being able to temporary let others access. No more getting keys cut and keeping track of who has what. Just issue access to another users 'card' with a time limit and you are all done.

Why Stop With Keys ?

Clearly, this does not need to stop with keys. Ultimately, why not have everything programmed onto one NFC smartcard ? This may be pushing the idea to an extreme, but it is not as outlandish as it initially seems.

We already have contactless payment, which can be used in a variety of stores and increasingly many international transport systems. If you can use contactless NFC cards for transport and retail payments, there is no reason why you could not use them for loyalty cards, gym/ organisation memberships and pretty much any other type of card you would keep in your wallet or purse. Once you add keys to this, and even the possibility to start vehicles, you would be able to condense the contents of your pockets down to a one NFC smartcard and/or your smartphone. It is exciting, it is convenient, it is cheap and it is certainly futuristic. So why does that feel somewhat unnerving ?

Security

Readers may feel slightly anxious and uncomfortable about this and understandably so. It is, perhaps, easier to lose one card then it is to lose the entire contents of your pockets. It is a bad day when you lose either your keys or wallet, losing both simultaneously would be a disaster.

Perhaps not. If you lose your purse or wallet and keys, the chances are that you are going to spend a considerable amount of time and (especially if you lose your car keys) money getting everything cancelled, replaced and changed. With a single card, you may be able to cancel everything in one go. And then be up and running again in moments with a new card (or phone). A fraction of the cost, a fraction of the effort.

The Future

We are already seeing progress with 'tap and go' oyster cards, 'tap and pay' contactless cards and 'tap and enter' NFC keys. The momentum is building and it is surely only a matter of time now that our pockets and bags start to finally get lighter.

28 January 2015

RapidNFC supply NFC Tags and work with a very large number of clients on projects throughout Europe who are using NFC technology in original and creative ways. It is always great to hear the details and stories behind these projects.

One such project that has recently caught our attention was Informació Barcelona Contactless creating multiple NFC access points throughout the city of Barcelona on behalf of the local government. The project has used technological innovation to create the foundations of transforming Barcelona into a 'smart' and more interconnected city.

Barcelona NFC Tags
Virtual Window

So what is the purpose of this project? To use Barcelona Contactless' own words, it's to create a '…window of the virtual Barcelona through the physical one'. And they have done just that. They have created multiple NFC 'access points' throughout the city, which offer people a variety of information regarding local services, events and transportation.

Depending on the item scanned you could '…visualise information on the equipment/service itself, [look up] information from other facilities/services nearby, and related agenda, download related mobile applications, and look up cross-check events in the city'. Essentially Barcelona Contactless has created an interconnected App-based system in which people are able to physically interact with the city's infrastructure.

Barcelona NFC Projects
NFC Infrastructure

Projects such as this show how NFC is becoming more and more mainstream, to such an extent that it is now becoming part of the actual infrastructure of major European cities. It also shows that, with a little bit of innovation, NFC can be used in new and creative ways to directly benefit local communities and city populations.

For further information and details regarding the Barcelona Contactless project check out their website: http://contactless.barcelona.cat/en.

22 January 2015

Last year the Apple iPhone 6 joined the majority of smartphones by containing an NFC controller. However, at the moment, this new iPhone is locked down only to the Apple Pay mobile payment system. This means that iPhone 6 users are unable to take advantage of the massive potential of NFC through apps, tags and communication.

Despite this, in the 72 hours following it's launch, a million credit cards had been registered with Apple Pay - an indication of the popularity from Apple's user base. Since launch, we've been asked many times if an when Apple will open up access to the NFC controller and what difference it would make to the market. In answer to the first part - we simply don't know. Most commentators, including RapidNFC, believe that they will (and that it will be able to scan tags) but when is a different point.

As for what difference it would make, let's consider what will happen if the iPhone's NFC controller is opened up and allowed to function with NFC tags and applications.

iPhone 6 NFC Marketing

Marketing is arguably one of the most anticipated uses for the iPhone's NFC function. Clearly, advertisers are currently holding back because without the iPhone, a percentage of all NFC marketing spend is going to be lost. A complete round-up of all phones changes that.

Additionally, while there are of course more Android users than iPhone users, iPhone owners are seen as spending more money than their Android counterparts, making them a valuable demographic.

As such, NFC marketing, such as smart posters or other promotional material, will become more attractive to retailers and advertising agencies once the iPhone can interact with NFC tags. This will affect Android and Windows Phone users as well as iPhone users due to Apple's influence. An example of this knock-on effect can be seen in America, where the release of Apple Pay helped grow the general mobile payments market. This launch saw boosts in the use of Android mobile wallet apps such as Google Wallet and Softcard which grew as more retailers struck deals with the companies.

iPhone 6 NFC Apps

Applications would benefit from NFC as current apps could be updated and new Apps could be developed and released to use this new functionality. NFC could be used in a number of ways in new applications. Apps could be released that write or read the tags or encode the tags with weblinks or trigger system setting changes. Another potential application could allow communication between devices, like Android Beam, that can send information easily from one device to another. Developing this theme of communication, applications could be used to connect and pass information from phones to other smart devices around the home – developing the Internet of Things.

NFC functionality could be incorporated into existing apps from retailers and other companies. This is one of the most interesting uses as it will allow stores to easily and intuitively interact with their customers. For example, NFC tags could be linked to further information on products or retailer's apps could allow extra functionality such as saving items for later. This concept is already being pioneered by Topshop using barcodes to save items for review, however using NFC tags would allow for a better experience, increasing ease of use for the users and so greater rewards for the retailer. Based on the range of apps that can tap into this NFC functionality, it is likely that, when the iPhone's NFC is unlocked, the next 'killer app' will use this feature.

iPhone NFC Asset Management

The rapidly increasing use of NFC within Asset Management and similar user and object tracking and management systems has been once of the success stories of NFC. In fact, the significant majority of RapidNFC's business is working with companies rolling out asset management projects.

While we expect to see some 'glow' from iPhone NFC, it's unlikely to change the current momentum in this area as the hardware (the phones) are usually supplied or can be recommended. The cost and relative software and ecosystem restrictions of the Apple iPhone aren't as appealing to many developers in this area and we would expect to see Android continue to dominate in this area. (With possibly Windows Phone creeping in as many corporate clients start to move towards a Windows tech ecosystem).

Conclusion

When Apple does allow the iPhone to work with NFC, we expect there to be a large shift in both companies and consumers perception of NFC, as more marketing and applications become available that use this technology. Due to the popularity and the influence Apple has, we anticipate that NFC awareness will rapidly grow among both everyday consumers, across the platforms, and professionals in marketing and advertising.

Whatever happens, there are certain areas of the NFC market that will change very quickly.

15 January 2015

RapidNFC have been fortunate to have been involved with many of Europe's largest NFC marketing campaigns over the last year. Projects have including outdoor advertising such as shop windows and bus stops, promotional marketing such as drinks mats, badges or giveaways, in-store marketing, magazine advertising, mailouts, flyers and much more.

One thing that connects all of these - as with any marketing campaign - is the desire to maximise response rates. Clearly, an NFC marketing campaign is always going to be about getting the maximum number of people to scan the tags.

So what have we learned ? Let's summarise in three main points.

NFC Tag Marketing Performance - RapidNFC
Tag Performance

Use the best performing tag you can. RapidNFC rate all our tags with our unique ScanStrength rating. The higher the rating the greater, in general, the scanning distance. And it makes a difference. We were involved in two campaigns during 2014 where the users interaction with the tags were very carefully recorded. On average, a typical mobile phone user will spend less than five seconds trying to scan a tag and then give up. Five seconds.

Additionally, in many cases, users didn't try to locate the hotspot on the phone by moving it around - they simply placed the phone and waited. Then gave up. The message here is clear - if you want to maximise response, make sure you use tags with the best possible ScanStrength and then get them as close as possible to the users phone.

Landing Page

This is a very common discussion with our team. Our recommendation is simple : Link to a mobile optimised website landing page and from there engage the user.

We've seen attempts to link to Facebook, download Apps and all sorts. All of these can have varying results across different mobiles. We have seen links through to webpages designed for desktops which don't render and take an age to load. Users will not wait for a download and they turn off very quickly if redirected to an App download (unless the campaign is specifically stating 'download our App here'!).

The best results were always that a fast response from the tag (see above) and a fast presentation of the campaign. Once the user has that initial response they will be substantially more willing to get involved from there.

Call To Action

We have saved the most important to last. This is the one where we have had the most discussion and the effect on perfecting that call to action on campaign performance is astonishing.

Let's be clear - not enough people know what NFC is. Many phone users have little idea that it's even on their phone or how to use it. Many iPhone users think they can scan NFC tags. So we need to help and this is crucial in the success of a campaign.

Two basic changes can make all the difference. This is what you need to do.

First, make sure you use the letters NFC. We've seen numerous marketing campaigns where advertisers have used an NFC logo (ours or the NFC Forum) without the letters 'NFC', perhaps with 'tap here' or something similarly vague. It's useless. There's a tiny amount of recognition for these logos.

Second, guide the user. A short phrase such as 'place your NFC enabled phone here' will work wonders. Better still, tell them why - 'place your NFC enabled phone here to get your voucher'. Using a picture of a mobile phone has shown to help but from our involvement either a picture of a phone or the word phone is just as good.

NFC Tag Marketing Performance - RapidNFC
NFC Marketing In 2015

RapidNFC saw a gradual pickup in NFC marketing during 2014 but we feel that 2015 is the year where we will really start to see some high profile campaigns. This isn't just about getting users to interact with a campaign but getting users to really connect with products, brands and ideas. NFC can provide a very quick and easy link between a physical object like a poster, magazine or store shelf and online information, social networks and so much more.

But to get the maximum performance, it needs to be considered with more care than putting a simple website address on the bottom of a poster.

07 January 2015
The Arrival Of High Capacity Tags

As most readers will know, the majority of the NFC tags we currently stock have a data capacity of around 37 - 144 bytes of data. There are larger capacity tags on the market, some of which we stock such as the 888 byte NTAG216. There's also more specialist tags with larger 4,000 or 8,000 byte capacities but these are extremely expensive and highly specialised.

NFC Tag Size Graphic !

However, there are 'standard' NFC tags currently being developed by a few companies which we have tested which hold large amounts of data. This raises the question: what, if any, are the benefits of having a tag with a 8,000 byte (8K) data capacity ?

NFC Use Cases

Here at RapidNFC we can think of a three potential uses for such tags :

vCards - It would be possible to add a small image to vCard data with large capacity tags.

Instruction documents - It would be possible, for a tag with this capacity, to hold small text based instruction manuals and documents.

Encrypted data - Rather than purchasing an encryption tag, it would be possible for the tag itself to hold encrypted data directly.

There are a few issues with first two uses.

A general issue with vCards is that, regardless of the available standards, they are not universally compatible with all devices as each device has different contact settings and various devices interpret the vCard data differently (or not very well at all!). The image would still be of low quality and, ultimately, there is no guarantee that this will transfer to the device as intended or at all.

To access instruction documents in any meaningful way, the user would need a particular App pre-installed on the phone. Otherwise the device simply would not recognise the data - in some cases even if it was plain text. This begs the question, why not store the instruction manual online where access would be far more straightforward ? There is certainly an upside to not relying on the internet for the transfer of data, but holding the data on a server would be, by far, the easier and more reliable of the two options.

In addition to this, storing instruction manuals directly on large capacity tags is not very dynamic. Instructions may need be altered or updated regularly. The problem is that tags carrying instruction manuals would need to locked to be secure, however once locked they cannot be updated over time. This makes the idea of using large capacity tags to hold information documents and manuals impractical as you would need a new tag every time the information or instruction changes.

In addition to all of this, the price of one of these larger capacity tags would be higher than any of the NTAG, Topaz or Ultralight chips we currently stock; extra money for what appears to be a very limited set of benefits opinion.

Pricing aside, our main issue with large capacity tags is that they seem to miss the point of how we see NFC in general. We have always considered that NFC should be thought of as a means to an end, rather than an end in itself. The best use of NFC is to create a link to data, rather than directly storing data. NFC works best as a connection between devices and data.

Therefore, while RapidNFC always consider any development with NFC as exciting - we can't see larger memory capacity tags as anything more than a very niche specialist item.

29 September 2014

As most of our regular blog readers will know, the new iPhone 6 was launched with NFC for use with Apple Pay - Apple's new mobile payment service. However, Apple has decided for the moment not to open access to the NFC controller for developers. At the moment, there's no NFC API in the iOS SDK which means that, for the moment, there's nothing planned either.

Apple have remained tight on if and when NFC will be available for developers although the chances of it being within the next year seem to be slim. But now there's something else.

iFixit recently did a 'teardown' of the new iPhone 6 which showed the NXP NFC chip (65V10) and an AMS AS3923 chip which is likely to be used as an 'NFC booster' to increase the performance of the NFC antenna.

What's interesting here is that, at the moment, nobody seems to be quite sure where the NFC antenna actually is. And importantly, in a point raised by NFC World+ whether this might indicate that the antenna wouldn't be powerful enough for reading/writing NFC tags.

Let's look at a couple of points here.

First is why the NFC antenna needs to be more powerful for reading/writing NFC tags than for payments. As many readers will know, NFC tags are not powered. The 'antenna' in an NFC tag isn't really an antenna at all, but is an inductor designed to convert a magnetic field into energy. When a mobile phone reads an NFC tag, this magnetic field and thus energy is provided by the mobile phone itself. How much energy is required to activate the tag depends on the NFC chip (NTAG203, Ultralight C, etc), antenna effeciency and so on. The mobile phone's ability to energise the tag is therefore vital.

The important point is that when a mobile phone is communicating to a powered reader - such as a payment terminal - the amount of energy provided by the phone is substantially less significant. For reading and writing tags, you would typically need a larger antenna - perhaps 10mm in diameter or more.

So where is this antenna in the new iPhone 6 ? So, couple of things from the September 2014 keynote speech. First is that in the demo of using the iPhone, the video clearly shows the phone's top edge being placed towards the payment reader - as opposed to the flat face on the back. Second is Apple's Eddie Cue commenting that the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus have '..a groundbreaking NFC radio antenna built across the top.'

Well that's kind of clear, but not exactly. As of today, as far as we know, nobody is actually still quite sure where the NFC antenna actually is. There's two likely positions. Either built into the PCB board which runs across the top edge of the phone or it may actually use part of the casing on the top edge of the phone. Bearing in mind the 'groundbreaking' comments regarding the antenna and the ability of the AS3923 chip to adapt tuning - it would certainly be fascinating if Apple are indeed using the case. Worth mentioning that in a 'Wireless Power Utilization In A Local Computing Environment' Patent Applicaton made by Apple at the end of November 2012, the idea of using the case had been considered : '..housing or a portion of a housing used to enclose the NFMR (near field magnetic resonance) power source can act to extend a useful range of the NFMR power supply.'

In any event, the point of all this is that while it's clear that a reasonable sized antenna would be required if the iPhone 6 / 6 Plus is to be used with NFC tags rather than just payments, there's nothing to indicate that such an antenna doesn't exist within the phone. Even if nobody seems to have actually found it yet.

18 September 2014
What is the Cumulative Discount Scheme ?

Our popular Cumulative Discount scheme is available to all our registered users. The scheme is designed to help and reward our customers that regularly buy the same products from us.

Essentially, it is designed so that you pay the volume discount price based on all the purchases you have made for that product, not just what you are about to buy. So, for example, if you have purchased in the past a total of 1,000 units of a particular product (over any number of orders), then you would never pay more than the 1,000+ volume discount rate. It means you can get the higher level discounts simply because you have purchased enough in the past.

Getting Started

Simply register an account which is free and place an order. The system is all automatic and you get the discount without doing anything. Accounts are, obviously, completely free and we don't spam with unwanted email or anything silly like that.

Cumulative Discount Changes

NFC is a new technology and we are now moving into a phase where many of our original products are being replaced with updated or 'next generation' products. RapidNFC only stock the 'best of type' products so as soon as there's a better option, it is our policy to make sure we offer it. For example, many of our old NTAG203 products are being replaced now with the next generation NTAG213 chips and so on where the new products are better.

However, as we upgraded our products we found that many customers who had built up cumulative discounts on discontinued products lost their discount benefit.

Clearly, this isn't how we intended the Cumulative Discount system to work so we've now put in a place a new policy. From now on, we will duplicate all Cumulative Discount benefits from discontinued products to their equivalent replacement products. At the moment, we plan to do this at the point that the new product is introduced to the website so that as soon as the upgraded product is available, you can get the discount. You can also continue to get the discount on the product to be discontinued while we have stocks but after the discount 'duplication', further purchases will apply to one product or the other.

We have applied this duplication to a number of products already. As always, we are here to help so if any questions - just ask !

10 September 2014

As most of our readers will be aware, Apple have now launched the iPhone 6 and Apple Watch. The iPhone 6 will ship with NFC support and the Watch will 'work with Apple Pay', indicating that it will also have NFC.

Clearly, this is a very significant step and one which will cement NFC's inclusion in mobile devices moving forward. NFC will become an essential feature in mobile devices rather than an additional feature.

iPhone 6 NFC

However, it appears that access to the NFC controller is currently restricted to just Apple Pay. This essentially means that the features you get as standard on Android, Windows and BlackBerry for NFC such as pairing, scanning and encoding NFC tags and so on, are not yet available on the iPhone.

The inclusion of NFC hardware from NXP is likely to indicate that the device is capable of these additional features and the inability to use them is either because the software is just not yet ready or it's a strategic (economic) decision to lock these features down.

There has been some discussion that allowing access to additional NFC features has been restricted because Apple wants to find out a way to make money from them. For example, the idea that you can open your hotel room from your NFC enabled phone is brilliant but NFC is an open standard and therefore there's no direct benefit to Apple. If there's a way you can only open your hotel room with an Apple phone then the situation changes - even if the mechanism is still NFC.

Here at RapidNFC, we find that argument a little far fetched. It would surely be in Apple's interest to make the iPhone as powerful as possible and by opening NFC to the developer masses, the range of new Apps and possibilities from ticketing to asset management, trade shows to marketing could easily put the iPhone at the heart of an open NFC eco-system. We think it more likely that Apple simply didn't want to hint at NFC inclusion in the iPhone 6 by including any NFC APIs in the iOS 8 SDK.

So, as far as NFC in general is concerned, we consider Apple's iPhone 6 and Watch move a big step in the right direction but we haven't arrived yet .

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The RapidNFC Blog

New NFC products, comments, general views and other opinions about NFC tags, NFC phones and all things NFC !