Google’s Android platform is finally giving developers the ability to write to NFC tags in what could give rise to dozens of novel payments and gaming apps. Up until now, Google has only allowed developers to build apps that read data.
The new access for developers includes a write API that will let apps transmit data to tags and a new kind of dispatching method that lets the application a user is running in the foreground pick up tags before other apps do. There is also some support for peer-to-peer connections between NFC-enabled devices. It also lets apps listen for specific types of tags or certain types of content on them.
Near-field communications, or NFC, can support transactions between two devices held just a few centimeters apart. It’s usually thought of as a technology that’s well-suited for payments, but it has also been embedded into “smart posters” or advertisements that have extra information like links to websites, movie clips or coupons. NFC has been used for years in Japan and Hong Kong in ticketing, payments, convenience stores and vending machines. There are plenty of potential applications: NFC could be used to replace receipts at the dry cleaners or the coffee shop. In gaming, it could allow friends playing the same game to physically swap virtual coins or goods.
There are a few NFC-enabled apps in the Android Marketplace already. Taglet, from Japanese developer Kyosuke Inoue, lets users read basic information like websites or Twitter handles from NFC tags. Inoue is already using NFC to change the check-in — he recently built a way for users to share their location on Japanese social network Mixi when they’re close to other NFC tags, instead of having to open a native app like Foursquare or Facebook Places.
Another NFC Android app, EnableTable, tries to improve customer loyalty by giving diners coupons at the end of their meal when their phone is near the bill.