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RapidNFC Blog

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 .

27 August 2014

Earlier this summer Microsoft started to release the next version of their mobile phone operating system, Windows Phone 8.1. Unlike Apple's iPhone, Microsoft has included extensive NFC support in their mobile operating system for some time. However, Windows Phone 8.1 builds on that support and adds a number of important updates.

Scan Notifications

One of the key differences in the way that Windows Phone handles an NFC Tag scan compared to Android is that the operating system will notify you of the scan, prompting you to ‘accept’ the scan contents. For example, a quick scan of a tag encoded with a web address will pop-up a window on the phone stating ‘Receive content? Someone is sharing a website .. with you’. To which you have to tap ‘accept’ before being redirected to the site.

Windows Phone NFC

This is annoying for two potential NFC markets. For marketing, it provides a barrier to interaction which can result in significant user drop-off. On Android, you wave your phone and it ‘magically’ opens a web page. On Windows, it feels like something bad is about to happen – like you are about to download a virus. For simple Applications such as launching settings or more complex Applications such as for Asset or Personnel Management it is simply a nuisance. You have installed the Application, you’ve probably even encoded the tag yourself or tapped the tag before. You don’t need the warning.

To be clear, the reason (as we understand it) is that it’s simply a security feature. Is it really safe that Android allows you to wave your phone over a tag and open a potentially virus infested website ? Maybe not. So Microsoft decided that the pop-up would show how security conscious Windows Mobile is and not let that happen. Fair enough perhaps.

However, in Windows Phone 8.1, you can stop this pop-up. Sort of. Essentially, if you have a tag that launches an App on your phone then the second time you scan that tag, it will ask if you if you don’t want the pop-up again in future. It will still ask you the first time. And importantly, it only appears to work with Apps rather than launching web pages for which you will always get the pop-up window.

For our customers considering developing advanced Apps for Windows Phone, this is certainly a plus. For marketing, nothing has really changed.

Unique ID Read

As most of our readers will know, every NFC tag has a Unique ID (UID) built into it during manufacture. It’s typically 7 bytes long (14 characters) and, because it cannot be changed and is very difficult to replicate to another NFC tag, is a quick and easy way to use NFC Tags to uniquely identify people and objects. Simple. So, you scan your phone over the NFC tag, read the UID and with a quick check against an external database can identify people and objects. Well, you can if you are using Android. Unfortunately, Windows Phone didn’t support reading the UID from the tags.

Well that’s changed. Sort of. Windows Phone 8.1 now supports the ability to read the UID from the chip. Except that it requires the right sort of NFC chip inside the phone to do it. And none of the current phones on the market have that chip. No. Really. Not even the new Nokia 930.

It’s very likely that upcoming phones will support this but as the penetration of the new phones will take a long time, it’s really only a feature that developers of ‘known hardware’ Apps are going to be able to use for the near future.

Locking Tags

In short, locking an NFC Tag means that the data stored inside the tag (web address for example) is ‘locked’ and nobody can change it. Ever. You can do this with any Android phone but, hey ho, not with a Windows Phone.

The good news is that with Windows Phone 8.1, you can ! Except you can’t because, as above, there’s currently no phones with the internal chip to allow the software to do this. See above for more info.

Encoding Tags That Aren’t NDEF Formatted

Oh how we love this one. Quickly.. data is stored on an NFC Tag in a very specific way set out by the global body for this sort of thing called the NFC Forum. For example, if you want to store a web address, you don’t randomly put bits of data on the tag, you do it in a very defined NDEF data structure. Then any other NFC Forum compliant device can read it. Works great.

Now, many NFC Tags have what’s known as a ‘blank’ NDEF message on them at manufacture. This provides a very basic ‘NDEF Format’ so that the device reading it can immediately know that the tag is able to store NDEF data. There’s often other bits of information as well such as memory capacity. However, some NFC Tags, like the Ultralight chip, do not have this default NDEF data – they are effectively just blank.

So, in some cases, you can ‘NDEF Format’ the tags which essentially means putting this blank NDEF data onto the chip. It can be overwritten with other data so it’s there simply to provide a basic starter format.

Old Windows Phones couldn’t handle tags that didn’t have this NDEF Format. They couldn’t encode them at all. Which means that if you had a set of tags that were not formatted then they were useless to you if you had a Windows Phone.

All change on Windows 8.1. Problem solved, except…. By now you’ll get the general idea and if you haven’t, then read the sections above.

Summary

So there we are. Microsoft’s Windows Phone 8.1 has wrapped up a number of the major issues with NFC Tag support.

Except nobody can use them yet.

(With thanks to Windows Phone guru Andreas Jakl at Mopius.com for help in writing this article)

22 August 2014
What is the Ultralight EV1 ?

NXP's Mifare Ultralight chip is one of the most popular NFC chips. We use this chip in a large number of NFC products including wristbands, keyfobs, PVC cards and so on. It's a very reliable and universally compatible chip which works with all mobile phones.

The Ultralight EV1 is a 'next generation' version of the Ultralight and has a small number of additional features. These include counters, simple password protection and an originality signature.

RapidNFC aim to provide the latest and best performing products to our clients where it makes financial and logistical sense and we have started providing the new EV1 chip in some products.

Is the Ultralight EV1 compatible with the Ultralight ?

Yes. And no. For all normal use cases the Ultralight EV1 can be used instead of the Ultralight so that the performance and other benefits can be realised. The standard memory configuration and UID structure is the same on both - although the EV1 has additional memory blocks for the password protection, counter and so on. In every case where we have seen, these additional memory locations do not interfere with function and therefore direct drop-in replacement is possible. However...

Encoding Ultralight EV1 chips with Android

There is a bug. While the default memory structure on the EV1 is the same as the Ultralight, the default memory data is not. This is interesting because the default memory on the Ultralight does not contain 'proper' NDEF data but does contain some 'filler' data. The new EV1 contains simply blank data in the same locations.

And this is where the problem lies. When attempting to encode the new Ultralight EV1 tags with some Android phones, the phone is not recognising the tag type and failing to encode. All phones are able to read the tags, but are getting stuck encoding.

From the tests that RapidNFC have conducted, it seems that the problem only affects mobile phones with internal Broadcom NFC controllers not internal NXP NFC controllers. If you are using a phone with an NXP internal NFC chip, then you will not have this problem.

So which phones are affected ?

Well, as far as our research and the research of some helpful customers have found, it is all Broadcom chipped NFC phone but only Broadcom chipped NFC phones. Therefore, for example, the Samsung Galaxy S3 is good (use NXP), the S4 is not good (uses Broadcom), but the S5 is good (uses NXP).

The resolution to the problem

If you have Ultralight EV1 cards and are unable to encode, then a quick unlocked encode with another Android NXP chipped phone will solve the problem. The process of encoding puts the correct data format on the tags to enable the Broadcom phones to encode EV1 chips.

Until we find a resolution to this issue, RapidNFC will stop stocking EV1 products and any customers purchasing any products we currently have with EV1 chips will be contacted to discuss options.

It's important to point out that this issue only affects the encoding of the Ultralight EV1 tags using these limited number of phones. We have no evidence or reason to believe that any device cannot read the tags or read the UID from the tags.

It's also important to note that this is a different type of bug - although similar- to the inability of Windows phones to read tags that haven't been NDEF formatted.

22 July 2014
1. NFC is wireless communication technology rather than a product.

Like Bluetooth or WiFi, NFC is a wireless communication technology that offers value as part of a wider product. For example Bluetooth is a technology that allows photos to be shared between two mobile phones but without the wider product (the two phones and the software that makes the process happen) Bluetooth has little customer value. Similarly when you scan your contactless credit card at a payment terminal although NFC facilitates the transaction the value also comes from the software that handles the transaction and debits your account.

2. NFC is here to stay.

In the year to September 2013 Visa contactless card payments totalled £461.6 million, rising from £96.7 million the year before. The reason for this fourfold growth is that NFC provides a simple one touch interaction that can improve existing customer experiences, in this case contactless payments.

When NFC is analysed it is typically hailed as a magic bullet or derided as an old technology about to be surpassed by Apple's iBeacon or whatever the latest marketing buzzword is; both sides miss the point. NFC is already highly integrated and useful in a wide range of global industries, many of which will be mentioned in more detail below, and because of that NFC is here to stay and a technology worth learning about.

Source - Visa Europe sees fourfold growth in U.K. contactless payments - Mobile Payments Today

3. The number of NFC smartphones is rising and fast.

The exact number of NFC smartphones or the percentage in circulation is not known however as Apple is currently the only smartphone manufacturer that doesn't support NFC a strong picture can be drawn. The Q1 2014 smartphones sales in Europe show 19% of devices sold supported iOS (the iPhone operating system) and the US (the iPhone's most significant market) had 38.9% iOS sales, down from 46.6% the previous year.

Across the 12 key global markets 21.1% of smartphone sales are iOS devices. Taking into account that the vast majority of new Android and Windows Phone devices support NFC the number of NFC smartphones is significant and rising fast. For a more in depth analysis click here.

Source - Smartphone Sales by Operating System - TechCrunch

4. The growth of NFC is driven by payments.

The application of NFC in mobile and contactless payments such as Google Wallet and Visa payWave is the primary reason for NFC's continued growth. Mobile payments is the reason Google first introduced NFC to smartphones with the Nexus S in 2011 and NFC is now supported by nearly all Android and Windows Phone devices.

5. NFC is about much more than payments.

NFC is used in a vast range of products, the most prominent being out-of-home advertising, healthcare monitoring, asset tracking, events and marketing. There are three main reason these companies chose NFC.

i. NFC smartphones are cheap, widely available and reliable. They also include a wide range of other useful technologies such as WiFi, network connections, a touch screen interface and Bluetooth. See a complete list of NFC enabled phones and tablets.
ii. Software development is affordable in the form of mobile apps or using an NFC tag to link to a webpage.
iii. NFC tags or smartcards are inexpensive and available in a wide range of formats. Click to find out more about NFC tags.

6. NFC, BLE (iBeacon) and QR codes are not mutually exclusive.

NFC, BLE and QR codes are all different technologies which in turn have different properties, advantages and disadvantages based on the situation. For example if a project is price sensitive QR codes (which are printed and therefore essentially free) are a much better option than iBeacons at $25 each. Find out more about NFC and how it compares with iBeacon and QR codes by clicking the links below.

i. What Is The Difference Between iBeacon and NFC? - Click Here

ii. NFC Tags vs QR Codes - How to Make the Right Choice - Click Here

7. The London Oyster travel card and contactless card payments are the most relatable examples when explaining how NFC works.

Both the London Oyster card and contactless credit cards are highly visual and understood examples of NFC in action that anyone can understand.

8. The majority of consumers don't yet know what NFC is, but it doesn't always matter.

NFC creates a one touch, frictionless interaction whether that is tapping a travel card (such as the London Oyster card) to a train station entrance gate or scanning a loyalty card at a payment terminal. Calling that interaction NFC rather than simply 'tap your card here' can cause unnecessary confusion.

If your product does require the user to know what NFC is, such as someone tapping their smartphone again a poster to launch a YouTube clip, it is beneficial to offer clear instructions so the user knows what to do.

9. Take about Apple and NFC is more likely rumour than fact.

The internet is filled with a large amount of debate on when/if the iPhone will support NFC however even information from 'reliable' sources or multinational corporations should be treated with caution. It is expected NFC will be included in the iPhone eventually however until Apple makes the announcement no-one truly knows.

10. NFC will continue to grow at a steady pace.

Contactless and mobile payments using NFC require the continued global upgrade of POS (point of sale) infrastructure in retailers. This change is already making significant progress (in the UK most major retailers support contactless NFC payments already) however like any change on this scale it takes time and will not happen overnight.

09 July 2014

At RapidNFC we are always on the lookout for simple and effect hardware solutions that can work in tandem with NFC tags; the MicroNFCBoard is just that offering an integrated development platform that can be used with Arduino, Raspberry Pi, mdeb or PC/Mac

What is the MicroNFCBoard ?

The MicroNFCBoard is a highly diverse NFC development platform that allows for NFC tag emulation, NFC tag reading, NFC tag writing, AppNearMe mode and Android Beam. The applications of this are extremely far reaching with the potential for use in mobile payment platforms, out-of-home advertising, events and asset tracking.


Who is the MicroNFCBoard for ?

The MicroNFCBoard is for NFC platform developers with an understanding of electronics hardware and software programming. If you have no previous experience with such development we instead recommend you read and write NFC tags with a non-programmer friendly mobile application such as NFC TagWriter available on Android.

How is MicroNFCBoard different from other NFC enabled boards ?

Although many NFC enabled boards/readers are available online the accompanying software is very limited. The MicroNFCBoard uses an onboard microcontroller that takes care of NFC related processing and can be controlled using the API.

MircoNFCBoard also offers the unique AppNearMe mode which makes it simple to add an external UI to your project by creating inputs and outputs that can be coded into an NFC-enabled Android app.

Want to find out more or back this project ?

See the Kickstarter project page for more information and how you can back this project.

30 June 2014

RapidNFC, Europe's leading online supplier of NFC tags and products, has provided NFC tags to enable Bluetooth tap pairing technology in the ceramic Bluetooth speaker - Josiah. Compatible with all NFC enabled mobile phones and tablets once tapped Josiah instantly pairs to the users NFC phone using unique data encoded to each NFC tag.

Designed by London design agency anythingby, Josiah is handcrafted using traditional ceramic manufacturing techniques in Stoke-on-Trent and offers wireless audio streaming, interactive touch surfaces as well as NFC pairing technology. Using a rechargeable battery Josiah can provide 10 hours of playing time and its Bluetooth receiver operates from a distance of up to 15 metres.


Phil Coote, RapidNFC's CEO commented, 'This is a fantastic example of how NFC can be effectively used in product design to enhance the user experience. The Josiah Bluetooth speaker is a truly unique product and something we are proud to be a part of.'

Yair Neuman, founder at anythingby also commented, 'Even though the technology is quite simple, there's something magical about NFC. No need to go through complicated settings and pairing steps. I love how the music starts as soon as you tap your phone on the speaker.'

17 June 2014

RapidNFC has long offered the popular Express Delivery Custom Print NFC Tags. Minimum order quantities start from 25 tags and orders can be turned around in 3-5 business days but in some cases they there is a problem, they do not work on metal surfaces.

There are a variety of Custom Print On Metal NFC Tags options available however the minimum order quantities start from 500 units and turnaround time is 3 to 4 weeks. This limitation is caused by the ferrite backing layer that allows the NFC tag to work on metal surfaces as it is expensive to purchase and difficult to handle on a small scale.

With this in mind there are three options when ordering Custom Print On Metal NFC Tags and this guide will help you to pick the best option for you.

1. Durable NFC Tag

The Durable NFC Tag is a completed Custom Print On Metal NFC Tag that can be peeled off the backing sheet as a single piece. Designed for industrial and harsh environments the minimum order quantity starts at 100 however the price is expensive at £3.07 per unit. In higher volumes the price reduces significantly with 1000 pieces costing £1.23 per unit.

Minimum Order Quantity
100 units

Lead Time
2 to 3 weeks

2. Overlaid Printed Sticker

A cheaper option is to buy our white faced NTAG213 Round 29mm (On Metal NFC Tag) and then separately source your own printed stickers that can be laid over the top. There is no minimum order quantity and in-stock products can be dispatched the same or next working day.

Minimum Order Quantity
None

Lead Time
Immediate Dispatch

3. Test Pre-Printed Samples

The last option is to bite the bullet and buy Custom Print On Metal NFC Tags in larger quantities which will allow you to purchase the tags at a significantly reduced rate (typically £0.63 per unit for 2000). We hold Printed On Metal NFC Tags in stock which can be purchased as samples in advance to check the print quality and that the NFC tags meet your technical requirement.

Minimum Order Quantity
500 or 2000 (Product Dependent)

Lead Time
3 to 4 weeks

10 June 2014

RapidNFC, Europe's leading online supplier of NFC tags and products, has prepared and provided NFC enabled window stickers to JUST EAT, the UK's leading online takeaway service. The double sided window stickers with fully integrated and encoded NFC tags are being placed inside JUST EAT partner restaurant windows throughout the UK to provide one touch access to JUST EAT's downloadable phone App.

As part of the production process, the NFC tags have been encoded with unique data to provide regional tracking and performance data. Additionally, for the benefit of iPhone users, the windows stickers also contain a QR Code with matched regional encoding to the NFC tag.


Designed to attract passers-by and people waiting for takeaway collection, the window stickers encourage users to interact and download the JUST EAT App to speed-up and simplify their next takeaway order.

Phil Coote, RapidNFC's CEO commented, 'We are rapidly finding more and more brands using NFC to drive customer engagement. By using NFC enabled window stickers, JUST EAT and restaurant owners can provide quick, easy, one touch App downloads for their customers. It's a perfect example of how NFC is now being used to increase interaction.'

Chris Landon, Head of Trade Marketing at JUST EAT comments, 'We're very excited to be integrating this cutting edge technology into our business. Our mobile apps are a rapidly growing part of our business, so it's great to have another simple way for customers to discover it.'

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