After backing the NFC Ring kickstarter a long long time ago it seems, the device finally arrived last week and I now wear a ring embedded with two NFC (near field communication) chips. All modern Android phones have NFC chip readers as standard that can be used to (i) bump two phones to initiate a file transfer or other behaviours, or (ii) scan an NFC chip in the environment in order to trigger certain actions such as reading the information stored or launching a URL or a whole bunch of other things.
I’m using the NFC chip on the underside of my ring as a security access chip to unlock and get into my phone, which was one of the main reasons I purchased the device. The use-case I wanted was a an otherwise complex access code on my phone lockscreen that I could bypass by tapping the ring on the rear of the phone. While the dedicated apps developed by the NFC Ring team provide an approximation of the functionality I was after, and are good apps in general, I don’t believe them to be as elegant as they could be; the lockscreen security can be a little convoluted and I discovered a conflict / bug (related to my Google 2-Factor Authentication) when playing with the apps that nearly locked me out of my phone.
Phones only “poll” or send out a signal for NFC when unlocked and the screen is on; to tell your phone to poll for NFC when locked and screen on – the behavior I was after – you need Root access to your device. The easiest way I found to do this was to install the Xposed Framework and download and activate the NFC LockScreenOFF Enabler module, which injects code to a deeper level of the OS, activating NFC polling when the lockscreen is displayed, and allowing you to grant security access to specific NFC tags or rings. The module has other options worth exploring and this was also an excellent excuse for me to use and learn about the Xposed Framework which, if you like tinkering with your phone, you should definitely check out.
There are also custom door locks and systems that enable wireless NFC access to your home or car that you could use with the NFC Ring. And I’ve previously hacked a basic little system out of Lego NXT and rooted smartphones that you can see here:
Finally, the NFC tag on the top of the ring can be used for a range of things. In the video I show it triggering text data, a URL link to my Google+ profile, and activating a custom Tasker task that activated a drawing program, drew a picture, saved the image, and posted it to Google+ with text (this post is here: I’d originally thought that you could use the top NFC chip as a pseudo-business card with people at meetings and conferences; simply tap your phone to the ring and hey-presto, contact details transferred. But given the different location of NFC antennas (and hot spots) in different phones and the high degree of accuracy needed to actually get the phone to register the NFC Ring this use-case may be somewhat limited.
Apps and Resources used in this Video / Project:
Xposed Framework – powerful tool enabling phone customisation tweaks.
Xposed Module: NFC LockScreenOFF Enabler – poll NFC while phone locked, etc.
NFC Ring Control app – default control and editing app for NFC Ring.
NFC Ring Unlock app – default unlock app for NFC Ring.
Tagstand Writer – NFC editing.
Trigger – NFC reading, editing, and triggering.
Tasker – powerful phone automation and activation of tasks.
RepetiTouchPRO – record and playback series of screen touches.