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At last! A REAL use for NFC: Bonking butler bots and oven-puters

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CES 2013 Upstart wireless data-transfer tech NFC is finally coming to some interesting devices. Not smartphones or shopping tills but TVs, speakers, washing machines and fridges, thanks to LG and Sony.

LG announced this week at the CES tech extravaganza an NFC-equipped oven, fridge and robot vacuum-cleaner as part of its "Smart Thinq" range. Sony is pushing NFC into its Brava TVs, assorted speakers and a 1TB network server, enabling instant pairing with Xperia phones as well as opening the way for the truly connected home we've been promised for so long.

NFC - Near-Field Communications - is, to be blunt, slow radio communications over very short ranges, triggered when two devices are within proximity. One could bonk an NFC-capable mobe against a till to make a payment, for example, and all the necessary details are swapped over the air by radio.

Now the tech has moved on to allowing speakers to pair with music players and TVs to be instructed by another NFC device. To realise the potential one needs NFC in every electronic device and that's been very slow to happen.

Most of our credit cards have NFC chips embedded these days, and a handful of smartphones, but the focus has been on pay-by-bonk - authorising transactions by tapping or waving the card or phone over the till - not because that's technically easy but because it has the most obvious revenue stream to recoup the cost of the hardware.

But once NFC is established a number of options open up. The most basic is tapping a phone against a speaker or TV to route audio and/or video to that device; the actual media is routed over Wi-Fi or Bluetooth, which are faster, and only the handshake is done over NFC. LG suggests a phone tapped against a cleaning robot can become the remote control for that droid, while a phone tapped against the fridge can present recipe suggestions based on what's in the appliance.

That depends on the contents being logged of course, which has always been the downfall in such innovations, but LG reckons barcode-reading software on a smartphone (aka an app that uses the built-in camera) makes that a lot easier until all the edible products have NFC-capable labels, and with NFC pairing the smartphone can become an extension of the fridge.

Which is what NFC is really about - enabling devices to easily and intuitively use features of other devices. LG's fridge has a screen, which is a disappointment really as the ubiquity of smartphones should make that redundant: it's a pointless replication of capabilities.

That's an accusation frequently aimed at the whole NFC and Internet-of-Things model, but connectivity is coming and once it gets into homes then the interesting innovations can start to happen. With LG and Sony so committed it shouldn't be long. ®

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