Automate Common Tasks in Your Life Using NFC Tags and Your BlackBerry [VIDEO]

How-to

[ YouTube link for mobile viewing ]

I’ve been a huge fan of NFC technology for some time now, and it’s been exciting to see the use cases growing for BlackBerry® smartphone users to include everything from payments using your smartphone to sharing photos and contact information. Yesterday I got a hold of some blank NFC tag stickers and got to tinkering. Building on some advice from Twitter® friends and a few colleagues, I managed to create a set of extremely useful NFC tags that have helped me automate common tasks that I perform on a daily basis. Now I can access the flashlight feature, remotely control my BlackBerry® PlayBook™ tablet, check into social media, and set my daily alarm with almost zero effort. Check out the video above to see the tags that I managed to whip up!

In the words of my friend Annu, who happens to be the Senior Product Manager for BlackBerry® 7, NFC technology on BlackBerry smartphones “works like magic”. The tags are inexpensive, the apps are readily available, the technology is here today, and the end result is fantastic. Let me walk through the steps that I took to create tags such as these.

The Recipe

 

You’ll need:

  • Blank NFC tags/stickers
  • An NFC-enabled BlackBerry smartphone:
    BlackBerry® Bold™ 9900/9930 or 9790 smartphone, BlackBerry® Curve™ 9350/9360/9370 smartphone
  • The ShortcutMe app for BlackBerry smartphones
  • The NFCShortcuts app for BlackBerry smartphones
  • Plenty of ideas; the sky’s the limit with this stuff!

Tip: The size of the tags (some hold more data than others), shouldn’t matter. You won’t be loading them with too much information in this exercise.

How it Works

The process involves a few steps: You’ll be creating a shortcut (think of it as an “action sequence” that can launch an app or function and then, optionally, interact with the app once it’s launched) using the ShortcutMe app, and then writing a command to launch that shortcut to an NFC tag/sticker using the NFCShortcuts app. Conveniently, both apps were designed by the same group (Fonware Ltd.), and they work together seamlessly. Check out some of Fonware’s other apps on the BlackBerry App World™ storefront here!

Tip: Do a web search for “buy NFC tags”. You should be able to find some that are quite affordable.

Creating Shortcuts Using the ShortcutMe and NFCShortcuts Apps

Both the ShortcutMe app and the NFCShortcuts app can be a little daunting to use at first. They deal with creating functions that can be quite complex, and you may need to do a bit of tinkering to figure it all out your first time through. Be patient, and leave any questions that you may have in the comments.

Let’s create an NFC tag that causes your device to turn Wi-Fi® on. Follow the steps below:

1. Launch the ShortcutMe app on your BlackBerry smartphone, hit the Menu key, and choose “Add Shortcut” from the menu. This will bring you to the new shortcut configuration page.

2. To the right of “App Name”, you can choose what app or function that this shortcut will launch. For our tag, we want to choose “WiFi_ON”. However, take a look in this list to see all of the possibilities for creating NFC tags. There’s a lot to explore in terms of apps and settings.

3. Next, you’ll need to choose a 1-3 character shortcut key sequence that launches this shortcut. I chose “WFI” to closely resemble the function of this tag. At this point, your screen should look something like this:

4. If you scroll down the page, you’ll come to an area that says “Macros”. Above this is an “Alternative Launchings” setting, which you can ignore for the time being. Macros allow you to simulate actual inputs after the app that you selected launches. In our case, turning Wi-Fi on is a one-time task, so we wouldn’t need to include a macro. But if you were to launch the clock with the intention of setting the alarm for example, you’d need to add that input sequence that would be performed after the app is launched. See below for an example macro and a screenshot of the built-in Macro Editor:

Note: Use Macros at your own risk, and be careful not to tap unknown NFC tags. As a built-in security measure, your phone will not work with NFC tags if it is locked.

5. Now you can hit the menu button and choose “Save & Exit” (remember to clear any macros out if you had been playing around; none are needed for the “Wi-Fi ON” command that we’ve chosen).

6. You should see your new shortcut on the home screen of the ShortcutMe app, listed as “WFI WiFi ON”. Feel free to click it to try it out.

7. Next, close the ShortcutMe app, and open up the NFCShortcuts app. This is where we’ll actually write data to a tag. Conceptually, we’ll tell the tag to launch the ShortcutMe app on your smartphone and activate the “WFI” shortcut that we just created.

8. Choose “Add a New Tag” – you’ll see that all you need to do is tap a blank NFC tag to begin (make sure that NFC is turned on in your settings). You should see a message that looks similar to the following:

9. Choose “Yes,” and in the next screen, you can configure the information that will be written to the tag. For “Launch”, choose the “ShortcutMe_Touch” application. Beneath that, you’ll see options for additional settings such as PreMacros. Ignore this and move down to the “Parameter” field. Here you need to enter the shortcut keys for the shortcut that we just created within ShortcutMe – so enter “wfi” (in this case, the field is not case-sensitive). Your screen should look like this:

10. Save and close the tag configuration screen, and then back on the home screen of the NFCShortcuts app, choose the correct “Stored Tag Number” for the tag that you just created. You’ll know you’ve got it right when you see the proper “Stored Tag Name” and the parameter shortcut keys listed after a comma:

11. Next, all you need to do is choose “Write To Tag”. Then you’ll have a simple option to “Write NFCL data to a tag”, which leaves it re-writable for future tinkering, or “Write and Lock the tag”, which is irreversible. After you’ve selected one of these two options, simply hold your NFC tag up to the phone, wait for the vibrate indication that the data has been written, and you’re finished! Go ahead and try it out.

More Ideas for NFC Tags

After a bit of brainstorming, I came up with a few more ideas for NFC tags that you may find useful:

  • Create an NFC business card that adds your contact information to an associate’s device when they tap it with their NFC-enabled BlackBerry smartphone.
  • For the frequent traveler, create NFC tags for turning off your wireless radio, or for launching BlackBerry® Travel.
  • Do you often make soft-boiled eggs? Slap an NFC tag onto your fridge and tap it to automatically start a pre-set timer on your phone.

That’s it for me; I’d love to hear your ideas and your experiences! Share your thoughts in the comments below.

About Luke Reimer

@Luke_Reimer is an Enterprise Marketing Manager at BlackBerry helping to design, launch, and manage enterprise marketing programs - particularly concerning content across digital mediums. Beyond spreading BlackBerry goodness in enterprise communities, you can find Luke cooking up a storm, out on his motorcycle (when Canadian weather allows), or digging into a good science fiction book.

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