Android Bug Creates Problems for Developers of NFC Texting Apps

Google’s Android operating system has a bug that creates headaches for application developers wanting to enable users to send SMS messages after tapping NFC tags.

The bug, if left unfixed, leaves Google’s Nexus S phone and other planned Android NFC phones unable to properly format the SMS phone numbers and text stored on the tags. These tags could be embedded in smart posters that could launch SMS applications on phones to enable users to request a range of content, from transit tickets to information on museum exhibits.

Developers have already rigged some workarounds for the problem, and they expect Google to eventually fix the bug, which also affects text messaging launched by other media on Android phones, such as 2-D bar codes.

But until it is repaired, the problem will create difficulties for developers wanting to use the SMS channel to request data or content on the Android phones. The problem could affect a range of applications. For example, service providers in Austria have used text messaging to let customers buy transit tickets or make vending machine purchases by tapping their older-style Nokia NFC phones on tags. The system also delivers the tickets or confirmation of purchases via text. SMS also has been used in NFC trials to deliver short educational content.

“While most tag-based applications will use the Internet to access information and services, there are a significant number of SMS-based services which will benefit from the simple access provided by NFC," said Glenn Needham, director of UK-based Near Field Solutions, an NFC tag supplier, and formerly chairman of the NFC Forum’s security working group.

In particular, SMS could become a popular means for NFC application developers to communicate with users of lower-cost NFC feature phones. Countries without a high penetration of smartphones or high-capacity networks also could use text messaging with tags.

Google did not fix the bug in its latest release of Android, 2.3.4, noted Michael Roland, research associate at the Upper Austria University of Applied Sciences. He said until the problem is solved, developers would have to design special fixes in their applications. He said he has reported the problem to Google.

Austria-based NFC consultant and researcher Gerald Madlmayr said the bug has been reported through “multiple channels” to Google. “The problem is already known since beginning of this year,” he told NFC Times.

Nick Pelly, a technical lead at Google for Android and NFC did not respond to e-mails from NFC Times asking when the bug is scheduled to be fixed.

Pelly, who played up the tag-reading and peer-to-peer features of NFC technology during a presentation last week at Google’s I/O developer conference in San Francisco, did not mention any problems with tag-reading functionality in Android during the talk.

Google has been slow to fix other texting problems in Android, including one that caused users to occasionally text the wrong contact.

Needham noted that the texting bug does not only relate to NFC and is not part of the NFC software stack that is part of the latest versions of Android, called Gingerbread.

“The bug is in the main part of the operating system, so you might see similar problems linked to the reading of QR codes and other media,” he told NFC Times.

Both Roland and Madlmayr said that in their tests, the bug does not interfere with the Nexus S reading the tag and drawing the data it needs from it, which in this case is mainly a phone number and text for the message. But when the SMS application opens on the phone, the message text gets put onto the same line as the phone number, so no message can be sent. The box for the text remains empty.

Roland said he has developed a “hotfix” for the problem that works with the SMS messaging application on the Android phones. Users click a second button showing the recipient's phone number to open the messaging application. The phone number and text are separated and go into the proper fields. But he noted it was only a temporary fix.

NXP Semiconductors, which supplies the NFC chip and NFC software stack to Google for Android, wrote its own “TagWriter” application for writing to NFC tags, and in it also fixes the problem for those people using this particular application, said Needham.

But without a permanent fix to the bug in the Android operating system, application developers will never be sure if their messages are getting across to users–at least not if those messages are using SMS.

 

HEADLINE NEWS

Apple to Enable Campus ID Cards in Wallet but Doesn’t Announce Opening of NFC Chip

NFC TIMES Exclusive Insight – Apple will enable colleges and universities to add NFC-based student ID cards to its Wallet with OS upgrades to its Apple Watch and iPhone, the tech giant announced Monday on the opening day of its Worldwide Developers Conference.

Barclays Embeds Contactless Chips in Bands for Brand-Name Watchmakers, Hoping to Boost Payments Wearables

NFC TIMES Exclusive Insight ­– The first contactless payments wearables resulting from UK-based Barclays partnerships with seven mostly analog watchmakers are beginning to roll out, with more planned–all using the bank’s bPay contactless chips and payments service.

Google Makes Progress Signing up Merchants in India for Tez Payments Service, but Penetration Still Low

NFC TIMES Exclusive – Google has signed up 640,000 small merchants in India to use its mobile payments service, Tez, a Google spokesman told NFC Times.

Vancouver’s TransLink Launches Open-Loop Ticketing, Though Offers Daily Riders Few Incentives to Tap Bank Cards to Pay

NFC TIMES Exclusive Insight – Vancouver is the latest major city to enable riders to tap to pay fares with contactless bank cards, including card credentials loaded into such NFC-enabled mobile payments services as Apple Pay, Google Pay and Samsung Pay.  

Walmart Quietly Ends Trial of App that Would Have Enabled Customers to Avoid Checkout Lanes in Supercenters

NFC TIMES Exclusive Insight – Walmart Inc. has ended a trial of its Mobile Express Scan & Go app in its Walmart stores in the U.S., which had enabled shoppers to scan their items themselves and pay with a stored credit or debit card, then leave the store, after having a greeter scan a bar code in their apps to briefly check the receipt.

Another Large Chinese City Supports QR Code-Based Transit Ticketing

NFC TIMES Exclusive Insight – Another major Chinese city is accepting QR code-based payments for transit fare collection, with riders of the Shenzhen Metro now able to use WeChat Pay to cover the fares.

Deutsche Bank Plans to Expand New Payments Service for Airlines to Other Industries, Though No Rollouts Yet Scheduled

NFC TIMES Exclusive Insight – Germany’s largest bank, which announced plans Monday to pilot a new payments system for airlines that would enable travelers to buy tickets without pulling out their credit or debit cards, is also planning to expand the scheme to other industries, a bank spokesman told NFC Times.

Apple Touts Strong Growth of Apple Pay Globally, though Again Fails to Release Actual Transaction Figures

NFC TIMES Exclusive Insight – Apple said the number of Apple Pay users doubled globally while transactions tripled during the last quarter, but the company did not release many details explaining reasons for the increases and again released no actual figures on Apple Pay usage.

Contactless Payments Continues to Grow for Transport for London, Helped by Fare Capping

NFC TIMES Exclusive Insight – Transport for London this week was again trumpeting its move to open-loop fare collection with contactless credit and debit cards and applications on NFC phones–noting that contactless payments now accounts for half of all pay-as-you-go metro and rail rides in and around the UK’s capital.

Visa and Mastercard Hope New Online Payments Spec Will Accelerate Rollout of Tokens; U.S. Merchant Group Blasts Network Move as Anticompetitive

Apr 26 2018

NFC TIMES Exclusive Insight – Major card networks Visa and Mastercard hope a new technical framework for online transactions they are backing from their jointly owned EMVCo specifications group will help them keep more transactions on their networks, amid growing competition for mobile and other digital payments and lackluster take-up of the networks’ respective online digital wallets, Visa Checkout and Masterpass.

Second Smartwatch Supports Fitbit Pay, but Payments Service Remains Fragmented

NFC TIMES Exclusive Insight – Struggling wearables maker Fitbit on Monday began selling its second smartwatch, the Fitbit Versa, supporting its NFC-enabled Fitbit Pay service, but not all versions of the new device support NFC in the U.S.