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More Consumer Electronics to Incorporate NFC for Connectivity This Year

By: 
Dan Balaban

LAS VEGAS, Nev. – NFC technology this year is likely to make its way into a greater variety of consumer products, including televisions, DVD players, digital cameras, even an automatic vacuum cleaner, if demonstrations at last week’s International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas are any indication.

Such consumer electronics giants as Sony, LG Electronics and Panasonic were demonstrating use of NFC to establish quick connections between devices to stream video, transfer photos and turn appliances on and off.

Other companies were showing NFC-enabled health and fitness devices that transfer readings and measurements to smartphones to be analyzed by apps. And there were earlier introduced products that use NFC for connectivity with infotainment systems and video games.

NFC connectivity contrasts with such high-profile NFC applications as payment and ticketing, which are more secure and also more complex commercially to roll out.

“(NFC) payment is not a widespread adopted use that will scale in 2013, 2014, even into 2015,” Mohamed Awad, associate product line director for NFC for U.S.-based Broadcom told NFC Times. “It is all about simplifying the consumer experience, simplifying connectivity.” NFC chips from Broadcom will likely find their way into many of the consumer devices.

Sony’s NFC Push
Sony made NFC one of its major themes for the CES trade show, touting “One-touch” pairing of devices and sharing of content. It introduced NFC-enabled TVs, speakers and headphones, as well as a terabyte storage unit, along with a new flagship smartphone, the Xperia Z, and the similar Xperia ZL.

Sony is using One touch as one of the key features to generate interest for its Xperia line of Android phones against dominant Android phone maker Samsung Electronics, as well as Apple’s iPhone.

While Sony demonstrated the One-touch feature to link to its own devices, including TVs, speakers and other Xperia smartphones, the consumer electronics giant will follow standards and use open source Android technology for its NFC functionality (outside of Japan), according to Sony’s Chad Pendleton. That includes the technology used to tap phones and tablets together to share photos and other content.

“That hasn’t been a part of Sony’s culture in the past,” he told NFC Times at CES. “In the past, Sony would have done something like Samsung has done with S Beam. I really appreciate the fact Sony has gone open source.”

S Beam is Samsung's peer-to-peer NFC sharing feature for its Android phones, which uses NFC to quickly open a Wi-Fi Direct connection between the devices to share content.

Sony said it uses Google’s Android Beam, which now transfers content in P2P mode via Bluetooth. Sony streams video from its smartphones or tablets to TVs with the emerging Miracast standard, along with Wi-Fi Direct.

Sony introduced at least three Bravia high-definition television models with NFC at CES. Users tap their phones or tablets to the TV remote controls to stream content from smartphones to the big screen.

Sony also introduced Personal Content Station, a device that offers a terabyte of memory space. Sony is promoting the product as sort of a central repository at home for users to back up their photos, videos and other content from their smartphones and tablets. The content could be shared among many devices.

Users could tap the device with their phones and tablets to transfer photos, videos and other files, with NFC opening a Wi-Fi connection. A “PCS Manager” Android app manages the backups. The device will sell for $299, said Sony.

Sony also introduced NFC-enabled Bluetooth headsets, along with music players and sound bars that also share content with smartphones and tablets.

The new Sony devices incorporating NFC are due on the market in the spring.

NFC-enabled Robotic Vacuum
Meanwhile, South Korea-based LG Electronics introduced an NFC-enabled Blu-ray player, the BP730, and an NFC-enabled sound system, BH9430PW. Both can stream content from smartphones or tablets using Wi-Fi, with the handover handled by NFC. LG calls its NFC connectivity feature “Tag On.” It earlier said its 2013 home entertainment lineup would include NFC in one or more models in its Cinema 3D Smart TV range.

In addition, LG’s home appliance division also introduced its first NFC functionality, putting NFC tags on a refrigerator, oven and washer and dryer. Users could tap to register the appliances for warranty and to add them to LG’s Smart Control Android app. Within the app, consumers could remotely adjust controls on the smart appliances, such as setting a cooking mode on the oven, and get information from them, such as an inventory of items in the refrigerator.

LG also demonstrated its previously released robotic vacuum cleaner, Hom-Bot, which automatically vacuums floors using sensors and cameras. It showed the unit with an NFC tag and said users could tap before they leave the house to turn the unit on or off. They could do the same thing with lighting, which LG also showed at CES. As with the other appliances, they could control other settings remotely, via Wi-Fi.

It’s not clear when the vacuum cleaner and light fixtures would be available with NFC, though a representative told NFC Times the Hom-Bot was due out this year.

Samsung Continues with Proprietary Tags
Meanwhile, Samsung Electronics, the largest maker of mobile phones worldwide, had its previously released flagship devices supporting NFC on display at CES, such as the Galaxy S III and Galaxy Note II, though it didn’t demo any new products with NFC inside at the trade show.

But Samsung and casino owner Caesars Entertainment installed more than 4,500 of Samsung’s branded TecTiles NFC tags in various locations in eight casinos Caesars owns in Las Vegas.

Most of the tags are attached to slot machines and gambling tables in four casinos, including Caesars Palace, Paris Las Vegas and Harrah’s Las Vegas. Tapping them with NFC-enabled Android phones would send a URL that would link to “tutorials, player guidelines, win-loss statistics” and other information. A small sign at each location tells users to tap their Samsung Galaxy smartphones to the stickers.

Other tags outside restaurants in the casinos enabled users to view menus and make reservations. Consumers also could get shopping information and check in with foursquare, according to Samsung. Project organizers had installed all of the tags by the first day of CES, Jan. 8.

But despite saying in its press announcement that guests at the hotels could tap the tags to access the information and content with “any NFC-enabled device,” the TecTiles tags continue to use nonstandard NFC technology, with Mifare Classic chips.

This means that no NFC-enabled BlackBerrys can access the tags. And it’s unlikely that the Nexus 4 smartphone, made by LG, and Nexus 10 tablet, manufactured by Samsung itself, would be able to read the tags, since they use NFC chips from Broadcom, not NXP Semiconductors, which owns Mifare technology. NXP has supplied chips for all of the Galaxy devices released to date.

Samsung had introduced the TecTiles tags for the U.S. market last year, and that market remains the focus for Samsung's branded tags, at least for now. Samsung noted in its release announcing the tags for the casinos that it has the largest base of NFC-enabled phones in the U.S., with 11 models, including the Galaxy S III, Galaxy Note and Galaxy Note II.

Transferring Pics and Steps with NFC
There were other NFC devices from big consumer electronics companies. Panasonic, for example, unveiled two digital cameras that also use NFC to quickly open a Wi-Fi connection to transfer photos from the cameras to other devices, the Lumix ZS30 and TS5.

Toshiba was showing a microUSB adaptor and SD cards enabled with TransferJet technology, a high-speed proximity technology that can transfer data to and from smartphones, tablets and other devices at up to 375 megabits per second by touching the devices together.

TransferJet, which is being promoted as a standard by a group of mainly Japanese consumer electronics companies, could be coupled with NFC technology–with NFC quickly powering on the TransferJet connection and handling payment for the transferred content, where necessary, Tsukasa Matoba, Toshiba's director of technical marketing for electronic devices and storage, told NFC Times.

He said Toshiba plans to release a combo chip combining TransferJet and NFC in June. The USB adapter and SD card, designed for Android smartphones and tablets, are scheduled for release in the spring, though are not expected to incorporate NFC.

Elsewhere on the CES expo floor, some companies were introducing consumer health and fitness products with an NFC interface to more easily send the data to smartphones.

Chief among them was Japan-based Omron Healthcare, which makes a range of consumer devices, including those that monitor or measure blood pressure, sleep, physical activity and body mass.

In 2012, the company added a contactless chip to these devices that could be read by Japan’s wallet phones supporting proprietary FeliCa technology from Sony. About 15,000 people used a wallet-phone application in 2012, said product manager Kazuko Kuriyama.

Omron has introduced the activity monitor in the U.S. this month supporting NFC. The device, which records such information as steps taken and calories burned, using an accelerometer, sells online for US$50. Omron plans to introduce the NFC-enabled blood-pressure monitor in retail pharmacies in the U.S. nationwide this spring for about $120.

A separate company exhibiting at CES, Fitbit, was also showing an NFC-enabled wristband that also uses an accelerometer. Users could tap it to the Galaxy S III and Galaxy Note II to open up an Android app on the phones and automatically transfer the information via a Bluetooth 4.0 connection. The roughly $100 wristband also works with the iPhone, without NFC, of course. NFC merely opens the app on the Android phones, said Fitbit’s Keanna King.

Omron’s Kuriyama told NFC Times the data from the blood-pressure and activity monitors are sent directly over the NFC interface, since the data is not too voluminous. The company has considered using Bluetooth low-energy chips in the devices in the future, she said.

“It (NFC and FeliCa technology) was widely available and the price was not so high compared with Bluetooth low energy,” she said. “And Bluetooth low energy was not available when we started development.”

A few companies were demonstrating secure NFC applications at CES, such as Assa Abloy, which has put residential door keys on SIM cards in a Samsung Galaxy S III in the U.S.

U.S. telcos Verizon Wireless and AT&T Mobility are believed to be interested in the product to potentially offer to subscribers via mobile wallets.

The General Motors division Chevrolet was also showing an electric charger with one of its forthcoming electric vehicles, the Spark. The charger, from General Electric, uses NFC to turn on the “pumps” so to speak. The app on the NFC-enabled smartphone would reportedly monitor the charge up for the car battery and handle payment.

And USA Technologies demonstrated a mobile app for couponing and loyalty at the Verizon Wireless booth that included redemption of coupons at unattended terminals with NFC phones.

There was also an announcement at CES by U.S.-based accessories supplier Incipio, which said it had a new case for the iPhone 4 and 4S to be used for the Isis Mobile Wallet in the U.S. The company, however, apparently removed the announcement from its site and the case from its booth display, perhaps because it is unknown when the “Cashwrap” case will be certified by Isis and the payment schemes.

While NFC payment and mobile wallets are still generating most of the buzz and investment in NFC technology, using NFC to pair devices, share content and enable other connectivity seems likely to be rolled out more quickly–especially if consumer electronics companies continue to add NFC technology to their devices. NT

 

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