Android Open NFC gets a bit more open

Our abstraction is more abstract than your abstraction

Inside Secure is about to launch a more abstracted NFC API, one compatible with Android versions 2.3 and (notably) 2.4, allowing developers to start showing what's possible with NFC.

The new implementation of the Open NFC (Near Field Communications) API will be available for download from the end of the month, with Inside Secure claiming that its abstraction layer makes the stack more hardware independent than the competition, but also that it's compatible with Android version 2.4. That claim is more surprising when you consider Android 2.4 has yet to be announced.

Given that Android version 3, Honeycomb, seems to be a fork aimed at higher-power devices, it's not surprising to see confirmation that there will be a new incremental version for handsets, nor that the Open NFC API will support it.

The Nexus S handsets, running Android 2.3 (Gingerbread) already offers programmers very limited access to the NFC hardware; providing a public API limited to reading tags. Undocumented APIs have been discovered to allow writing tags too, but interacting with the secure element (essential for the more interesting applications of NFC) is still impossible until Google/Samsung releases a software update.

The Nexus S uses an NFC chip from Inside Secure's competitor NXP, and Inside reckons the supplied software stack is insufficiently abstracted from that hardware - perhaps concerned that such an integration will make its competitors' hardware more attractive.

Android developers don't yet care about such details, but just want to be able to do more with the hardware. At least they can already do something, unlike those touting Nokia's NFC handset, the C7, which has no exposed NFC API at all - so an NFC handset in name only until it gets upgraded.

That upgrade will almost certainly expose an Open NFC API, or the Java equivalent (JSR257), the industry having coalesced around the standard which us welcome. Once developers start being able to play properly with the hardware we should finally get to see if NFC really does open up loads of new capabilities or remains an oddity. ®

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