Finally RIM has posted information in their forums regarding NFC! You can check it out here: NFC Primer for BlackBerry Developers.
This article is intended to act as a short and basic introduction to the world of NFC as it applies to BlackBerry® smartphones, such as the BlackBerry 9900 smartphone, and is aimed at developers who wish to take advantage of this exciting new technology. No prior knowledge of NFC is assumed but we do assume that the reader is familiar with Java® in some places.
This article was co-authored by Martin Woolley and John Murray both of whom work in the RIM Developer Relations team. Both Martin and John specialise in NFC applications development (amongst other things).
What is NFC?
“NFC” stands for “Near Field Communications” and from one perspective is simply a very short range radio communications technology. The range of NFC communications is typically no more than about 4cm whereas in contrast, the range of Bluetooth® is several metres, and Wi-Fi® potentially hundreds of metres. NFC is a key element in something referred to as “contactless card technology” which allows small devices such as smart cards to interact with other devices merely by being moved into sufficiently close proximity with the other device.
Looking at NFC systems more closely however, reveals that this radio capability sits within an overall system architecture which consists of a variety of components and which has the capability to make possible an interesting and exciting range of types of applications. We’ll explore this in the next section.
What can you do with NFC and BlackBerry devices?
There are all manner of use cases which NFC could support. Here are some examples:
- Smart Posters – embed small electronic “tags” containing data such as a URL in posters. An NFC enabled BlackBerry smartphone can read the data and act upon it just by holding the device close to the poster. The action taken when reading a tag will vary according to the type of data the tag contains and the nature of the application reading the tag but it could for example involve taking the user directly to a web site which contains more information about the advertised event/product (etc) on the BlackBerry Browser®, or automatically send an SMS requesting someone call back the user, and so on.
- Ticketing - gain access to theatres, events, trains, buses etc
- Payment - pay for goods or services using your NFC enabled BlackBerry smartphone very much as though it were a plastic credit card
- Access - gain physical access to restricted areas or buildings. Gain logical access to the corporate network.
- Data exchange – exchange data objects such as electronic business cards between BlackBerry smartphones just by tapping them together. Automatically configure smartphones by tapping them together. For example you may be able to configure your smartphone’s Wi-Fi capability by tapping it against your Wi-Fi enabled router at home.
- and much more…..
The variety of application types that are possible is wide but on closer inspection it turns out that there basically are two classes of NFC Devices supporting these use-cases:
- An NFC-enabled device like a Point of Sale terminal or an NFC enabled phone (such as your BlackBerry smartphone). These are devices that are generally self powered and capable of transmitting or receiving on the NFC antenna under their own power.
- An NFC tag is typically a passive device (for example, integrated in a smart poster) that stores data that can be read by an NFC-enabled device (such as your BlackBerry smartphone). It is not capable of operating under its own power and depends on the presence of a radio field from an NFC-enabled device like a card reader to power it.
These two NFC Device types determine a set of permutations to which there corresponds three possible “modes of operation” in which NFC can be used:
- Tag reading and writing - used with “smart posters” for example where an NFC-enabled device can read or write a passive NFC Tag
- Peer-to-peer (P2P) – used to transfer data objects between NFC-enabled devices such as two NFC-enabled smartphones
- Card emulation (CE) – as the name suggests, this is where the NFC-enabled device (your BlackBerry smartphone) and the software it contains act to emulate some kind of contactless card. It could for example emulate a credit card to support paying for items or a transportation system access card. Card emulation is specified as being able to take place even when the NFC-enabled device is powered down; just as though it was a Tag.
The words “Card” and “Tag” tend to be used interchangeably. Technically they are both the same; however, contactless cards used in ticketing and payment today include additional technology to store secure data whilst the word Tag is generally used to refer to a passive devices such as a Smart Poster Tag.
How do users work with NFC?
To engage in an NFC use case users will hover their smartphone near another device (another NFC capable smartphone, a “smart poster”, a contactless card reader or some other kind of NFC enabled device such as a Wi-Fi router). It’s just possible however that while not strictly necessary, they will grow accustomed to actually tapping their device against the other device. There’s no need to touch the other device from a technical point of view, but this very pro-active gesture of tapping one device against another has a very reassuring and satisfying feel to it and it is likely that this will catch on.
What is the architecture of a BlackBerry NFC solution?
The following diagram shows a somewhat simplified schematic of the architecture of the NFC system within applicable BlackBerry smart phones:
For more on NFC visit: NFC Primer for BlackBerry Developers