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Samsung Galaxy chip confusion halts bonking plastered apps

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Samsung's Galaxy S4 flagship mobile can't grok data transmitted by stickers sold by Samsung to eager app makers.

Electronics embedded in the labels fire out pre-programmed information when a compatible wireless NFC chip comes within range, and work with Samsung's Galaxy S3.

But a new NFC chip in the S4 is incompatible with the plasters, rendering the digital decals useless to strokers of the latest Android-powered Galaxy mobes. It's a bit of a blow for NFC fans.

Samsung has now suspended sales of its TecTiles, which were snapped up by early adopters wanting to hitch a rid on the NFC bandwagon. The South Korean giant promises a new revision of the sticker tech, and is probably thankful that only the fanatical AnandTech appears to have noticed. Until now.

The TecTiles are sold with an app to automate actions - so a sticker on the bedside could automatically put your nearby phone on silent, for example. Much was made of them when the Galaxy S3 was launched, but little has been heard - until the S4 was launched and sharp eyes spotted it has a different NFC chip to the S3's.

That new chip is from silicon giant Broadcom, following Google's lead (in the latest Nexus hardware) away from rival manufacturer NXP, which supplied the chip for the S3. That's important because the NXP chip supports the NXP-backed contactless communications tech MIFARE as well as NFC. The first generation of TecTiles only supported MIFARE because it was cheaper – and at the time it looked like it might end up in the NFC standard anyway.

Not that "NFC" is a standard as such, just to confuse things. The NFC Forum promotes a standard called "N-Mark", so when we refer to "NFC compatible" kit we generally mean conformance to the N-Mark spec. Anyone is free to call their technology "NFC" as the term has no proper meaning.

Which is exactly the kind of confusion which will kill off NFC while it's still struggling to justify its existence. Users will bonk a phone against a tag, and they like it when things happen, but it only takes a few failures to turn them off the technology entirely. Once turned off they're very hard to seduce back.

Fortunately it seems that not many people bought version one TecTiles. Version two will implement N-Mark properly and thus work with both the S3 and S4 handsets, as well as everything NFC.

Right now the Samsung shop is disabled, but within a couple of weeks the stickers should be back. If you can't wait then there are plenty of others who'll sell you something guaranteed to be compatible. ®

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