What the Tech? NFC Tags, Part 2

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(ABC 6 News) – If you’ve been on TikTok, or Instagram lately you may have seen some buzz about a technology called “NFC tags”. Many people are sharing some of the things they have automated using these plastic tags by just tapping them with their phone. Some of them are very impressive such as tapping a tag for movie night. Tapping the tag triggers a string of commands that close automated blinds, turn down the lights, open Netflix on the TV, and even start making popcorn with a popcorn maker connected to a smart plug.

Who doesn’t want to do something like that? How do you get started using NFC tags?

I purchased a pack of 50 NFC tags on Amazon for $15. They’re very small, about the size of a quarter.

To program the tags you need to open the Shortcuts app on an iPhone. They can also be used with Android phones and I’ll get to that below.

On an iPhone open the Shortcuts app and select a shortcut. If you haven’t used it before, the app has a number of “starter shortcuts” and many others in a gallery. These shortcuts allow users to start things in motion using just one tap on the screen or by asking Siri. They can also be triggered through an NFC tag.

As an example, I selected a shortcut called “Home ETA” which automatically gathers my current location and driving conditions and sends my family a text message saying I’m on my way, with an estimated time of arrival. To complete setup of the Shortcut you just need to enter your home address and select who you want to send the messages to.

Once the shortcut is created and saved, go back into the Shortcuts menu and select “Automation” at the bottom of the screen, then tap on the plus sign in the top right corner of the screen.

This calls up a page called “Personal Automation”. Scrolling down the page, select “NFC”. It will ask to scan a tag which you do by placing the phone next to one of the NFC tags. It also wants to know if you want it to run the command automatically or run it after confirmation. Select run automatically if you don’t want to tap on the screen after you tap the NFC Tag.

After tapping “next”, look for the Home ETA shortcut you set up earlier.

That’s it. The next time you tap the tag it’ll send the text messages to the people you selected.

You can create your own automation and shortcuts to do more things. Set it up to control smart home devices you may have. I set up a tag to turn on the lights in my office and begin playing an Apple Music playlist. It takes some time to set up shortcuts and can be confusing. I found it to be both complicated and maddening.

On Android devices, I suggest downloading the app “NFC Tools” which is actually easier to use than the iPhone’s shortcuts app. I set up a tag to text my wife my ETA back home, start a playlist of music on my phone, and open Waze with the directions home already entered.

There are few limits to what you can use the NFC tags for but it depends largely on your ability to figure things out without much direction from Apple and Android. You’re basically generating a computer code and although there are a few shortcuts to writing them, it’s still difficult to set up the tags to do complicated things.

Can they really change how you do some everyday tasks? Yes. But I’ve found it’s easier to do some things just by asking Siri, Alexa, or Google Assistant.