NFC is coming to a smartphone near you. Android already supports it, Windows Phone 8 and BlackBerry 10 will support it, and the iOS 6 Passbook is a strong sign NFC is coming to the iPhone.
Many have hyped NFC, short for Near Field Communications, as the future of mobile payments. But in reality, their tap technology can also be used to share smartphone contents, contacts, and execute simple smartphone commands. And that's where Samsung TecTiles come in.
Samsung TecTiles are NFC-enabled stickers that are about the size and shape of postage stamps. Through an Android app that's freely available in the Google PlayStore, the stickers can be programmed to enable various smartphone functions when tapped. Think of them as a more advanced and yet simpler version of QR codes.
So let's find out if they are actually useful, unlike the near omnipresent square patterns smartphone users have been successfully ignoring for years.
What Can They Do?
Samsung TecTiles have limits. They will work with any Android NFC phone, but users can only program them to perform specific tasks, as limited by the app. The tasks are broken up into four categories, including:
Settings and Apps
Phone and text
Location and Web
The benefit for a business is clear. Samsung TecTiles can be programmed with office contact info or a FourSquare check-in at the door, or a theater can have a tag that sets phones to silent.
Or at least that's what Samsung lays out as use cases in its marketing materials. To be fair, it's not a stretch to see NFC utilized in such ways. It certainly helps that the TecTiles work flawlessly. I had no issues getting a Samsung Galaxy S III to recognize the sticker, and the handset executed the task each time without any bugs or even lag. Setting up and programming the TecTiles through the Samsung app is simple and intuitive, never requiring more than 30 seconds from start to finish.
But the limits of Samsung TecTiles may prevent these particular stickers from becoming widely adopted. For starters, Samsung TecTiles are limited to Android NFC smartphones, and only work with smartphone that already have the TecTiles app installed. Try tapping a TecTile without the app, and it will bring up the TecTiles marketing microsite complete with instructions to download. As much as I hate manufacturer bloatware, it would make sense for Samsung to preinstall the TecTile app on all future smartphones.
Another drawback, TecTiles do still require a manual component on the user end, particularly with the social settings. For example, any Facebook "liking" won't occur unless the user is already signed in and has enabled TecTile Facebook permissions. Twitter requires a login too, and the user has to manually send the update. In addition, I found that TecTiles mangle Twitter messages by turning common symbols with garbled code. For example the common "@" turns into "%2540".
TecTiles can be locked by the user, which prevents mischievous types from reprogramming them with obscene messages. However, once the TecTile is locked, it can't be reprogrammed ever. Considering the stickers cost $15 for five at launch, a pin number protection system would have been nice. Otherwise, TecTiles can be reprogrammed again and again. There is another option to "allow multiple writes," for programming TecTiles in bulk.
The cost is probably the main hurdle to widespread adoption -- and I think Samsung realizes that. TecTiles are a neat accessory that showcase NFC and its potential. I see no reason why another company couldn't or wouldn't offer a less expensive and generic alternative, perhaps one that works across iOS, BlackBerry 10, Windows Phone 8, and Android.