Introduction: Easy Phone Automation With NFC Tags

About: I'm just another person out there trying to get the most out of life. I love to expole the world around me and try to have a good time doing so.

More and more smart phones are coming out with NFC capability. But what does that mean for you? A few things: the ability to send data over a very small distance to another phone, the ability to use your phone as a wallet, and the ability to read and write NFC 'tags'.

NFC stands for 'Near Field Communication' and is more or less an RFID (think of the anti-theft tags on clothing) that can engage in two way communication. Some neat things about NFC is that the tags are unpowered and don't have to make contact with the reader to work (though they must be very close).

This instructable will show some ways I've made my mobile life simpler by using NFC tags to automate some functions on my phone. My hope is that you will find them useful or that you will come up with your own ideas. Cool factor aside NFC tags can be very useful and practical.

Sorry apple fanboys, the NFC party is Android only for now. I'd bet money you'll see it in the iPhone 5 though.

Step 1: What You'll Need

Getting started with NFC tags for phone automation is easy and pretty cheap.

You will need:
*There are a few different type of NFC tags. To be on the safe side get NDEF preformatted tags, unless you know your phone works with unformatted tags. Also, type 2 tags will work with future iterations of NFC, so consider those. Finally, check the capacity of the tags. Simple tasks require little memory, but swtich tags with multiple tasks can require a more than the 48 bytes available on some tags.

Step 2: The Basic Idea

It works like this: With NFC Task Launcher installed you can place your unlocked phone within range of a programmed tag an your phone read it and affect the changes written to the tag.

The app can write several different types of tags. In this instructable we'll focus on three, they are:
  • Task tags executes a single set of tasks, like turn on wifi and/or mute the volume, each time the tag is read.
  • Switch tags switch between two sets of tasks each time the tag is read.
  • Uri tags can create an outgoing message to be sent

Some things to consider:
  • NFC Task Launcher can't do everything imaginable, but does have a wide feature set
  • NFC tags can be read through thin materials, like wood or plastic
  • Always test the readability before sticking a tag underneath/behind something
  • Metal interferes with NFC tags, so if you are putting a tag on metal, make sure you get the right kind of tag

So let's start making your life easier! Here are some of the ways I've used my NFC tags. Comment on ways you have used them, or ideas you have.

Step 3: Coming Home & Leaving Home

The Effect: When I come home I want wifi turned on and my phone to connect to my home network, and to turn off the phone's vibrate function. When I leave home I want my wifi turned off and vibrate turned on.

Wifi consumes battery, so if I'm not using it I want it off. Also, vibration is great when I'm out and my phone is in my pocket. At home it just rattles the table and makes my phone dance.

The Tag: I wrote this tag as a switch tag so it will swap between the two states. They are:
  1. Coming Home- Turn on wifi, connect to 'Dr.Strangelove' (My home network) and provide the network key (if you don't already have it), turn off vibration
  2. Leaving Home- Turn off wifi, turn on vibration
The Placement: I wanted this tag to be hidden in a convenient place in my doorway, so I stuck it on the inside of the light switch plate. When I come/leave home I unlock my phone and touch it to the switch plate.

Step 4: Bluetooth on the Go

The Effect: My wife has a fancy Bluetooth headset, but doesn't like to wear it when she's not using it. This tag toggles Bluetooth so my wife can turn her Bluetooth on and off while keeping her eyes on the road.

The Tag: This is a simple task tag that uses toggle Bluetooth. Toggle switches from off to on or on to off, depending on the phone's current state.

The Placement: I stuck the tag on the backside of the door of a compartment on the dash. It is out of sight but well within arm's reach.

Step 5: Bed Time

The Effect: I own my phone, it doesn't own me. So, when I go to bed I don't was to be disturbed. This tag quiets the ring and notification tones and ensuring my alarm is turned up when I go to bed. When I get up it turns the ring and notification tones back up.

The Tag: I used a switch tag for this application. The two tasks are:
  1. Goto Bed- Ring tone to 1, notification tone to 1, alarm to 6
  2. Get Up- Ring tone to 8, notification tone to 6.

The Placement: I placed the tag on the bottom of my nightstand table. I put it on the far side of the table so I couldn't accidentally activate the tag when putting mu phone down.

Step 6: On My Way Home

The Effect: My wife carpools to and from work and has to wait for people sometimes. When she gets to her car at the park and ride she sends me a text to let me know she'll be home in about 20 minutes so I can get dinner on the table. This tag writes the text message and addresses it to my number. All she has to do is scan the tag and hit send.

The Tag: I used an Uri tag for this that readies the message 'I'm on my way home!'

The Placement: I used a 'laundry token' tag that I mounted in an acrylic key fob I made. That way she can scan it while pulling into the park and ride.