In my last post I described my rather underwhelming first experiences with NFC, using the apps that came supplied with my Sony Xperia S Android handset. I then got slightly more success using the excellent (and free, I might mention) NXP TagWriter app from the Google Play store. But, so far, I’ve only written and read simple text strings over NFC. What about if you wanted to program some action that should be taken when a device reads an NFC tag?
This, I believe, is the intended function of the Sony Xperia SmartTags app, but the required SmartTags themselves are still not available in the UK (and those stockists that are advertising them for pre-order suggest that, when they do become available, they will be at a hugely inflated price compared to regular unbranded NFC tags:- £15 for 4 SmartTags compared to £6.50 for 10 generic NFC tags…). So, it was time to turn to the Google Play shop again to see what alternative apps were out there.
There were two apps that caught my eye, which both seemed to provide the required functionality:
So, I decided to take them for a whirl:
NFC Task Launcher
NFC Task Launcher has excellent reviews (4.7/5.0 stars average) and lots of positive comments. In addition to the paid app (costing £1.21), there’s also a free version. Seeing as I’m only fiddling with NFC, it made sense for me to download the free version first so that I could evaluate the sorts of actions available that could be programmed on my handset.
Or so I thought.
Installing and firing up NFC Task Launcher Free, I was a little surprised not to find any menu options relating to creating tags, reading tags, or assigning actions. Those, I thought, would be pretty key features for any application that allowed you to create and read tags that performed actions… Instead, the only options were to upgrade to the full version, some settings, an about page, and a link to purchase NFC tags:
Reading the description on the Google Play shop, I then saw: “This is the free version of NFC Task Launcher. It can be used to READ and EXECUTE tags created with the full version”. Hang on… the only thing that the free version can do is read and execute tags created by the full version? How does that help me evaluate its functionality, when I need access to the paid version to make it do anything?
The paid version of NFC Task Launcher might be great, but there’s certainly no way of knowing that from trying out the free version first, so NFC Task Launcher Free is another app that can be added to the “list of useless apps to be deleted”.
NFC Quick Actions Free
When installing this application, you’ll notice it asks for a lot of permissions. I’m normally very reluctant to install applications that ask for more permissions than necessary but, when you think about it, the whole point of using this application is to automate different parts of your phone. For every possible action you might want to take in response to reading an NFC tag, this application needs to have permission to perform that action, so expect to see it request permissions for everything from taking videos to turning on Wi-Fi and making calls:
Having installed and launched NFC Quick Actions, you can select from one of a number of actions to assign to a tag:
The available actions are:
- Launch an application
- Dial a number
- Check into Foursquare
- Turn on/off the device light
- Send an email
- Load Google Maps
- Launch the “Android Market” (now Google Play shop)
- Navigate to a chosen destination
- Toggle Wi-Fi/Bluetooth/Airplane Mode
- Send an SMS
- Load Streetview
- Write Text
- Navigate to a URL
- Play a Youtube video
Having selected an action, and set any corresponding parameters (i.e. the addressee to which an email or SMS should be sent, or the point on which to centre the map), hold up an NFC tag to the back of the phone to write that action to the tag.
Subsequently, every time you hold up the tag to the phone (so long as the phone is unlocked and NFC is enabled), the given action will be performed – you don’t need to have the NFC Quick Actions application open. In the example above, waving my phone above the programmed NFC tag causes Google Maps to open, centred on Norwich. Neat, huh?
I tried out a few of the actions, and they seemed to work relatively well. However, there’s still a few improvements that could be made to the application: the UI is a bit clunky and a lot of the descriptive text could be made clearer. The biggest limitation, however, is that NFC Quick Actions can only assign a single action to a tag. In practice, I would normally want to specify sets of actions to occur- for example:
- When touching my phone on the NFC tag on my bedside table, I’d like to set my alarm for the morning, turn off Wi-Fi, and dim the screen brightness.
- When touching the NFC tag in my car, I’d like to enable GPS, turn on handsfree mode, and fire up the Navigation app.
- etc. etc.
I’ve written to the developer with suggestions for a few more actions, and to ask whether multiple actions are likely to be supported in the future. I’ll let you know if I hear anything. In the meantime, if anyone can recommend whether it’s worth investing in the paid version of NFC Task Launcher, or if there are any other NFC actions apps out there, please let me know….