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When most people use the term "NFC", they are generally referring to an up-and-coming mobile payments system such as Google Wallet or the Isis efforts. However, NFC as a mobile payment option is actually threatened by various security holes, Apple's Passbook service which will launch with iOS 6 and other mobile payment methods that do not have hardware requirements.

While we all wait to see which – if any – mobile payment method will finally to take off, however, more and more smartphones are launching with (mostly unused) NFC radios. But as we are learning rather quickly, there are a great deal of other practical uses for near field communication. What kind of techie are you letting a perfectly good NFC radio go to waste? Why not put the one in your smartphone to good use?

How, you ask? It's simple.

In Android version 4.0, Google incorporated NFC in the mobile operating system as a social sharing method and dubbed it Android Beam. If you are watching a video via YouTube, playing a game you downloaded via Play Store or just browsing the Web, you can share any of those things with another Android user (given they are using a phone on 4.0 or higher with NFC capabilities) by simply tapping the two phones together. In the most recent Android update, Jelly Bean, the Android development team added the ability to share other types of media via Beam, such as pictures or videos.

But how many times are you going to want to share a picture or some other form of media with a nearby friend? And what are the chances they, too, will be using Ice Cream Sandwich or Jelly Bean on a phone with NFC? I will admit, it's much quicker and more simple than, say, emailing a photo to them. And there's definitely a cool factor to it. But in the same respect, it only works a fraction of the time due to most of my friends having older Android devices or iPhones.

Earlier today, Sharon Vaknin of CNET composed an ongoing list of common and even some less common uses for NFC. Vaknin explains that one of the most common use case for NFC is "situation-based profiles". In other words, as you're walking out the front door of your home, you could have a self-programmed NFC that turns Wi-Fi off and turns on auto-brightness. Likewise, if you set it up as a switch, you can reverse those toggles by simply tapping the tag one more time – or when you return home.

Vaknin gives several other examples of where these situation-based profiles could be handy. On the dash of your car, you might want a tag that enables Bluetooth, GPS and launches your music app of choice. On your night stand, you might consider placing a tag that turns on your alarms and turns off ringtone sounds. Other scenarios are at work, working out or even one for the living room.

But toggling settings based on location, time and the like is only one of the crafty benefits of NFC. Vaknin explains that you can program an NFC tag to give friends, family or other visitors quick access to your wireless network without verbally giving out the password. You can also use it to quickly and painlessly pair devices with a Bluetooth peripheral. She even recommends a programmable NFC keychain that you could use for "anything from putting your phone in hot-spot mode to firing up your favorite playlist."

One of the coolest use cases – and one that I'm currently drooling over – is Lockitron, which allows you to lock or unlock the door to your house using your phone's NFC capabilities. In short, it's a novel idea – and a geeky one at that. But starting at $295, it is admittedly a tad steep.

For the more light-hearted, Vaknin suggests a nice prank you could play on your friends. For instance, hide an NFC tag programmed to play the YouTube video "Never Gonna Give You Up" near your friend – this is one I'm sure Aaron would enjoy a little too much. For all the different possibilities, check out the full (and growing) list over at CNET. Russell Holly from geek.com also has a nice list of future use cases for NFC.

Personally, I have yet to let NFC into my life beyond sharing a few pictures and apps with friends using Android Beam. However, I plan on buying some NFC tags from Amazon in the near future and having some fun with it. I would definitely love to stick one in my car that's programmed to toggle Bluetooth and launch Spotify. The NFC tag on the night stand that engages alarms isn't a bad idea either.

Then again, most of this can be accomplished – automatically – without the hassle of programming NFC tags or having to tap them at various intervals throughout the day. Tasker allows you to automate tasks on your phone based on location, time and a plethora of other triggers.

Have you found a nice use for NFC in your lives, readers? Or do you sometimes forget your phone even has NFC capabilities? Would you like to use NFC more? If so, what for? Payments? Or some of the alternative uses listed above?


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