Green NFC? The Future of Environmentally Friendly NFC Tags is Here

NFC is starting to see significant growth with smart product labeling and smart packaging for Connected Things projects. With NFC tags now being put into product labels and packaging, connecting those products to a personalized digital experience, the environmental impact of NFC tags also needs to be considered. With the adoption of NFC, and its benefits, businesses are expressing an increased desire for environmentally friendly NFC tags. Many brands and distributors, such as Amazon and Apple, are looking for ways to make their labels and packaging as green as possible to meet corporate and government sustainability goals.

Traditionally the UHF RFID and NFC markets haven’t been primarily concerned with the environmental impact of their products. The focus has been more on specific government standards and guidelines such as RoHS for hazardous substances (lead, mercury, cadmium, …), REACH and US and EU food safety requirements such as FDA 21 CFR. With the shift to consumer-focused NFC tags, and deployment of billions of smart labels and packaging, a focus on sustainability is becoming a priority. Luckily for us, and the planet, environmental impact studies have been created and NFC tag manufacturers are aware of the growing demand for green NFC. The Connected Things industry is now seeing more environmentally friendly NFC tags enter the market.

A traditional NFC inlay, the most basic form of a functional NFC tag, is made from several components and materials; PET (polyethylene terephthalate), aluminum or copper for the antenna, an integrated circuit for the NFC chip (silicon, gold..) and an adhesive. From an environmental perspective, the substance of greatest concern in an NFC inlay is PET. PET is a common plastic that is used in many consumer goods, including water bottles and product packaging. While PET is recyclable, when used in the quantity and form of an NFC inlay, it is difficult to separate the PET from other components for recycling, and it tends to jam the processing filters. In addition, the metal of an NFC antenna is difficult to recover and recycle. Ultimately, this has made the overall product packaging of a Connected Things project less environmentally friendly and more expensive.

In response to this obstacle, there are industry efforts already being exercised that will make NFC tags better for the environment. One possible step is replacing PET with a paper-based substrate for the antenna and NFC chip. Paper is obviously much more environmentally friendly and interferes less with the recycling process. A side effect of changing from PET to paper is that the NFC tag can be ripped or torn which could be considered a deficit or a feature, depending on what is desired for a project.

NFC tag manufacturers are also examining alternative ways to make the metal antennas, including “printing” the antennas. There are still strides to be made in these efforts since, to-date, printed NFC antennas have poor performance compared to conventional, subtractive processes. The adhesive used on an NFC tag is another area with room for improvement. Companies like 3M have been working on eco-friendly hot melt adhesives for at least 2 years. The amount of adhesive per tag is also being reduced. Finally, the overall manufacturing process is also being examined with the goal of reducing its carbon footprint and energy consumption. Some NFC manufacturers are experiencing success in these efforts and have been able to reduce their CO2 output by more than 50%.

While the majority of NFC tags that GoToTags currently provides does not have these new materials, we are working with NFC manufactures to design and develop a product line of environmentally friendly NFC inlays and NFC labels. Currently, the minimum order quantities for eco-friendly NFC tags are still too high for some projects, but for Fortune 100 brands, where sustainability is a priority, it is possible today.

As with all things green, there is no single, easy solution. What we do know is consumers today are more educated and aware of the total impact of products and packaging they purchase and use, as well as their potential waste. If there is a commercial demand for environmentally friendly NFC tags, NFC manufacturers will respond to that demand. Many of us in the Connected Things industry are already bringing solutions to the table. GoToTags expects to see a significant increase in sustainable NFC solutions as Connected Things, and NFC, become more popular.

If you are interested in additional information about environmentally friendly NFC tags, and GoToTag’s current offering of these products, please contact us.

Will Apple Fix Core NFC in iOS 12 for the iPhone?

It’s been a year now since Apple added support for reading NFC tags with an iPhone in iOS 11 and since then we have seen an increased demand for NFC tags, and the Connected Things industry in general. Core NFC, Apple’s NFC SDK on iOS, still has several limitations and is deficient compared with Google’s Android NFC SDK. With Apple’s annual WWDC event on June 4th, 2018 we will see what Apple has in store for iOS 12, and what improvements there will be for NFC. We have written about Apple’s support for NFC in the past, and how it has affected the adoption of Connected Things. If you haven’t read through our related posts, now might be a good time.

Before last September, Connected Things had always been waiting for Apple to allow for reading NFC tags on the iPhone. As the dominant manufacturer of consumer phones, the iPhone has always set the standard for what it meant to be a modern smart phone. Without support for reading NFC tags, businesses didn’t feel comfortable deploying millions of NFC tags into the market, knowing that roughly 50% of consumers would not be able to interact with them.

Everything changed in September 2017, with iOS 11 and the iPhone 8 with the addition of Core NFC. Core NFC is the SDK for iPhone that allows apps to access the NFC controller in the phone. Now it is possible to develop an iPhone app to read NFC tags and, subsequently perform actions. GoToTags has an iPhone app, and companies like Nike and MLB have added NFC functionality into their apps to allow for interesting physical world interactions. Now, a year later the adoption of NFC and Connected Things has taken off. Companies that had only been previously experimenting with NFC are now deploying real projects to the market. Companies are seeing the value of connecting their physical products to digital experiences, and they are doing this through smart labeling, smart packaging and sometimes embedding NFC directly into the product itself. GoToTags has seen record breaking sales of NFC products and an immediate and significant interest in Connected Things by businesses worldwide.

Companies are becoming more comfortable with Connected Things, and they are looking to scale up and increase the value of their NFC tag deployments. One key area to focus on is making the consumer interaction experience as easy and natural as possible. There are some limitations in iOS 11 that make the experience of using NFC on the iPhone a bit difficult. In many ways NFC on iOS 11 feels incomplete; as if Apple developers ran out of time and had to ship only what had been implemented at that point.

These are the things we would like for Apple to fix in iOS 12:

Safari, the native iOS web browser should be able to read NFC tags and if there is an NDEF URL on the NFC tag, it should automatically open that URL in a web browser. Currently in iOS 11, an app is required to read NFC tags, in order to do this; its why we had to make our GoToTags iPhone app. Having to download a separate app to interact with NFC tags is a poor user experience and generally limits the user adoption of NFC. There already is an obvious native app on the iPhone that should handle NDEF URLs, Safari. We’d expect that the other web browser apps, Google’s Chrome and Firefox would also implement this. This is how it works on Android; it just makes sense that it would work this way on iOS.

Reading an NFC tag on iOS should not require the user to perform an explicit function in the app. When the NFC tag is interacted with, it should just perform the desired action without user action. Why? Because the user has already implicitly indicated they want to read the NFC tag by the fact they physically touched their phone to the NFC tag. NFC is very short range (1”), so it’s highly unlikely anyone accidentally reads a tag with their phone. Why make the user go through this extra step? The whole point of NFC, and what Apple prides itself on, is to make the experience of using the phone easier for consumers.

Core NFC should allow access to read the NFC chip’s UID. The ability to read the UID is a perquisite for implementing an anti-counterfeiting solution. Many GoToTags customers had been using the NFC UID as an identifier in their systems; this is very common for physical presence security systems, asset tracking and other ID-based systems (non-URL based). Using NFC tags to be able to securely authenticate and track products is a key value proposition for NFC; something that barcode and QR codes cannot offer. There is no valid reason to not allow access to the NFC chip’s UID. There is significant business value in being able to read the NFC chip’s UID.

There are additional smaller issues with NFC on iOS 11; the lack of an ability to write NFC tags, support for only NDEF… but in our extensive experience, we do not see these as roadblocks to full adoption of Connected Things. There are only three main things for Apple to fix in iOS 12 to allow for a much better user experience for the consumer and value for the brands owners. Once these are implemented, NFC on the iPhone will be unlocked, and the full realization of Connected Things, smart labels and smart packaging will be finally possible. GoToTags is working with commercial printing and packaging companies to bring this to reality, at very large scales. Given WWDC is only a month away, if you haven’t started thinking about what Connected Things means to your business, contact us to get started.

 

GoToTags at NRF 2018 to Showcase NFC and Connected Things in Retail

The GoToTags team will be attending NRF 2018 in New York to meet with customers and partners to discuss how Connected Things can be used in retail. GoToTags has several years of experience deploying NFC in innovative retail projects; including an NFC based shopping wall for a Starbucks corporate event.

If you would like to arrange a meeting with GoToTags, please contact us.

Apple iOS 11 Supports Reading NFC Tags for iPhone 7 and iPhone 8 with Core NFC API

UPDATE Sept 12th, 2017: Read the new post Finally Read NFC Tags with an iPhone App on iOS 11

Apple has just announced at WWDC 2017 that iOS 11 will have support for reading NFC tags and NDEF messages. This means that all iPhone 7 and newer will be able to read NFC tags just like Android. While the iOS NFC API docs (Core NFC) are live on the Apple developer site, they appear to be at an early stage and there are still some questions. We’ll cover these questions and answers as they come in. For context, you should read up on other previous posts about Apple and NFC over the past couple years. If you have any questions, please either contact us or via Twitter @gototags.

Download the GoToTags iPhone App to read NFC tags and scan barcodes!

Is this for real?

Yes, it’s for real. It’s the moment the NFC industry has been waiting for.

What are the implications of this?

Huge, a fundamental change in how we interact with physical items and their digital counterparts. NFC is now a horizontal technology like the camera, WiFi and Bluetooth. Previously NFC had success but only in vertical markets such as asset tracking, security, gaming and closed event systems. Now going forward, most people will have an NFC reader available in their pocket to interact with NFC tags. Think about how the camera changed things…

What new use cases will be supported?

You will see a significant increase in consumer focused uses cases. This includes out-of-home marketing, smart product labels and packaging, interactive event experiences, rich gaming, product authentication and information and so many before. This is where NFC breaks away from its RFID roots. UHF RFID and NFC before the iPhone supported NFC tags was relegated to closed loop deployments in which the device was controlled via an entity “use this phone to do your job”. Now application developers and services providers can start to count on the consumer already having a device (phone) which can read NFC tags; in the same way they expect the phone to have a camera/GPS/WiFi. What you will see is things in the physical world now have NFC tags in them to link to its digital counterpart. We call this the Connected Things segment of the Internet of Things (IoT).

Where is the NFC Core developer documentation?

It’s here.

What models of the iPhone will be able to read NFC tags?

The iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus, as well as the upcoming iPhone 8 will be able to read NFC tags. Technically the iPhone 6+ has an NFC controller in it to support Apple Pay and will receive iOS 11. However they will not support NFC tag reading at this time. The iPhone 7 did change some of the NFC hardware, so it’s possible that Apple thought this upgraded hardware a requirement for the best NFC tag reading experience.

How many iPhones will now be able to read NFC tags?

By the end of 2017, I’d guess 250M+. Many consumers have been waiting for the upcoming iPhone 8 to upgrade. Think about this; it’s unprecedented in technology. Never before has a market increased by so much is such a little time. This is because Apple has been selling this hardware capability for over a year now, and it’s just a software update to enable.

When will this be available?

The iOS 11 beta is available for download now. The public release will be available shortly after the September 12th 2017 event, likely along with the iPhone 8.

What NFC functions are available?

Only reading NFC tags is supported in iOS 11, not writing NFC tags or card emulation.

Why just support reading NFC tags and not writing?

In our experience, regular consumers just don’t encode NFC tags. Only geeks (like us) and a few verticals support it. In 99% of projects we have worked on (millions of NFC tags), the tags are pre-encoded before delivery to the consumer. The implication of this is that NFC tags must be NDEF encoded in order to be read by an iPhone. This is fine; the GoToTags Store offers an NFC tag encoding service and NFC Encoder software and hardware for those that want to encode NFC tags themselves.

Is an app required or is there native support for handling of specific NDEF records?

An app is required to read NFC tags on the iPhone. This is different than Android which has native functionality in the operating system that when it encounters certain types NDEF records, it will perform their natural action on the phone. For example, a website record will open the url in the browser. This is likely something Apple will change in the future to improve the user experience. For now, you will need to use the GoToTags iPhone App.

Does it support NDEF?

Yes, but not completely. There is base level support for NDEF messages and records, but no typed classes for NDEF record (uri, text, contact, mime…). It’s easy to write those record subclasses so this isn’t concerning. GoToTags has a free iPhone app, and if there are any missing gaps in the SDK we will fill those in. We already have a complete NFC/NDEF SDK for .NET Windows so it’s easy for us.

Which NFC chip types are supported?

NFC types 1 – 5 are supported; which is all of them. This includes Mifare Ultralight, the NXP NTAG series and the longer range SLI series. If you aren’t sure which to use for your project, contact us and we can help.

Is it possible to read the NFC chip’s UID?

No, iOS 11 will not be able to read the NFC chip’s UID. This has some implications as the UID is used for functionality such as product authentication, anti-cloning and counterfeiting. Several projects did not take our advice and have just used the UID; time to rethink that. As a simple solution, our Encoder software can encode the UID in an NDEF record, although there really are better encoding strategies. See our help site for more details.

Why did Apple release an NFC API now?

It’s about time! Android has had an NFC SDK since 2010 and Apple Pay is successful. See our other posts about Apple and NFC. In general I think Apple finally saw NFC for what it is, a base-level technology that is a required hardware component in a modern smartphone in 2017. Everyone always asked “How will Apple make money off NFC?”. Wrong question, it’s akin to asking “How will Apple make money from the camera?”. Plus there are the ~2% transaction fees from Apple Pay.

How does this affect ApplePay?

It will not affect Apple Pay at all. While NFC is used as the mode of communication for Apple Pay, VAS (Passbook) and now reading NFC tags; the secure element used for ApplePay and VAS is not used when reading and writing NFC tags.

Will the Apple Watch also support reading NFC tags?

Yes, the Apple Watch will also be able to read NDEF records from NFC tags. We expected it to as it would make for an interesting user experience. Apple has already been driving their customers to use NFC on the Apple Watch for payments via Apple Pay, so this is a natural extension to that.

Will macOS support NFC?

There was no mention of this. macOS does support PC/SC so it is possible to build an NFC SDK and app, but you would be starting from a very low level.

How many calls/emails/texts did I have about this on the day it was announced?

Over 50, from partners, customers, friends, family, coworkers, investors, suppliers, competitors and press; along with record website traffic.

What’s next?

Game on. If you don’t already have an NFC strategy, now is the time to get your team together and figure out what NFC means to you. We can help you. We have worked on over 20,000 projects; some being very small and others are with Fortune 100 customers that we’ve been working on for 2+ years. Contact us and we’ll respond quickly.

 

GoToTags Releases .NET SDK for NFC, Barcode Scanners and I/O Control

GoToTags announces the release of its commercial .NET SDK, enabling software developers to easily write their own Microsoft Windows based desktop applications using NFC, barcode scanners and input/output control systems. The .NET SDK was designed and tested with over 5 years of experience developing its own applications, including the GoToTags Windows App and GoToTags NFC Encoder software and Reel-Reel NFC Encoder hardware. The SDKs are easy to use and include code documentation and working example code to read and write NFC tags and scan barcodes with barcode scanners.

The .NET NFC SDK works with a variety of NFC readers and NFC tags; allowing developers to read and encode NFC tags with either NDEF or raw data formats along with reading the NFC chip’s UID, chip type (NTAG213, NTAG215..) and other properties. The .NET Barcode SDK works with barcodes scanners from Motorola, Zebra and Leuze and supports all popular 1D and 2D barcode formats including Code 128, UPC, Datamatrix and QR codes. The .NET I/O SDK works with the Velleman VM100N and is used to read and set digital and analog inputs, outputs and counters; allowing developers to easily integrate motor control systems, counters and other sensors and electronic devices.

The GoToTags .NET SDK is comprised of three distinct IoT SDKs; NFC, Barcode and I/O. Each SDK can be licensed separately or all three SDKs licensed together. Three licensing plans are available tailored to suit the specific needs of all our customers: Basic, Professional and Enterprise. The Basic plan is closed source and is ideal for applications requiring just one of the SDKs (NFC, Barcode or I/O). The Professional and Enterprise tiers are suited to customers who need to develop full featured applications and includes access to all three SDKs. The Enterprise license additionally provides access to view and fork the SDK source code in our GitHub repository. Licenses are per-developer with no runtime licenses or royalty fees. Each license include a 1 year subscription for support and upgrades.

A free 2-week trial is available to test the .NET SDK to allow for implementation and verification before purchase.

GoToTags Updates its NFC Tag Encoder Software and Hardware with v3.11 Release

We are excited to announce a major new release of our NFC tag encoding software plus a new version of our Reel-Reel NFC encoding hardware. This release will also coincide with the transition to a completely new subscription pricing model offering our customers a choice of several plans to suit their needs.

This is great news for our existing and new customers as the functionality of the encoding software is greatly improved and the new subscription pricing model allows us to offer lower per tag prices and provide better service.

The NFC Encoder software is commercial grade Windows software to encode and verify NFC tags and barcodes. The v3.11 software release includes many major changes including:

  • Support for Windows 10 and high-dpi monitors
  • Switch to use new GoToTags .NET SDK for barcode and hardware control
  • An updated and cleaner UI
  • Multiple minor bug fixes and performance improvements

The newly designed NFC Reel-Reel Encoder hardware has been optimized for high-speed NFC tag encoding and includes:

  • A more functional design that can meet industrial scale workflows
  • Support for additional sensors via a new highly adjustable sensor rail mounting system
  • Support for new Leuze tag counters including both optical and ultrasonic tag counters
  • The ability to detect and count a wider range of NFC tags and NFC inlays, both clear and opaque faced
  • An improved power supply

We analyzed our existing customer preferences and usage data and are pleased to announce the new pricing model will offer lower per-tag costs to customers that utilize the software. It is a major revision of the outdated 4-year-old pricing model, which was purely usage based depending on the number of tags encoded during each billing period. The new model offers our customers a choice of several plans with features suited to all levels of usage.

Customers will be able to pause or resume their subscriptions as well as upgrade or downgrade their plan at any time with pro-rated charges. Existing plans will be available until July 1st, 2017 when previous versions of the Encoder will need updating to the new version and customers will need to subscribe to one of our new plans. The reason the existing plans will no longer be supported is that supporting older generations of plans side by side affects our ability to operate a modern and efficient product and we know we have created a range of plans to suit the encoding needs of all our customers.

For those customers just getting started with NFC and only need to work with a few NFC tags, the GoToTags Windows App is software for you; plus its free!

The new range of plans allows us to tailor the product to better fit the scale of different customer operations and we are confident the new model allows improved service and a better version of NFC Encoder that you’ll love. If you have any questions, please feel free to contact us.

 

GoToTags Expanding NFC Tag Fulfilment Europe – April 2016

Wanted to give an update about GoToTags expansion to Europe. Since we published our initial plans we have been overwhelmed by customers and partners looking to get involved in some way which is very exciting for us. We have been busy lately servicing the European customers from our Seattle, USA office. However we want to service our customers and partners even better. Our immediate priority is to set up an operations and fulfillment center in Europe in which we will stock inventory and be able to quickly and cost effectively get NFC tags and hardware to our European customers. We hope to have this up and running in the next few weeks. After that we will be adding sales, support and other roles. Our initial primary focus will be to service existing NFC service providers and stores rather than end customers. We will be traveling through Europe in May to talk with customers and partners. If you are interested in meeting with us on that trip, please contact us.

In the interim, we are offering 50% off shipping to Europe for corporate account customers on qualifying orders. This reflects our commitment of getting NFC products to our important European customers quickly and cheaply. Contact us to learn more about this offer.

GoToTags Expanding to Europe to Offer NFC Tag Products

As many of you are already aware, there have been some changes in the NFC tag market in Europe recently. For the last several weeks we have been receiving an increasing stream of inquiries from European customers looking for a new provider of NFC tags as their typical UK NFC tag supplier RapidNFC is stopping activity. From looking at their website, the online purchasing is disabled and there has been no activity on their blog or social profiles since the end of January. They were well known in the industry and we wish them the best in their future endeavors.

For European customers looking for NFC tags, don’t worry; GoToTags has always serviced customers globally including Europe. Our headquarters for engineering, sales, support and inventory are in Seattle, USA and we have agents in China. We design our own NFC tag products and have contract factories in China and the US build to our specifications. You will find it straightforward to transition to GoToTags as your supplier for your NFC projects; many customers already successfully have. And we even use the metric system! GoToTags offers a wide selection of blank, ready-made, printable and custom NFC tags as well as NFC software, hardware and online services on our online store.  For custom projects, corporate customers looking to setup on-going relationships, or if you just have any questions please contact our team and we will respond quickly.

Given the void in the Europe NFC tags market, we have decided to accelerate our expansion plans. We are actively looking at expanding our sales and operations into Europe so that we can service customers quickly and efficiently. This will roll out in several phases. We are actively recruiting for European-based sales and support staff to allow for even easier communications. The final step will be an operations center for rapid NFC tag production and fulfillment. If you’re interested in being a part of this expansion; please contact us.

Here at GoToTags we are continuing to see increased awareness, adoption and overall growth in the NFC market. We have several customer projects with 100k+ tags each and many more medium sized projects and prototypes. We’re excited for the future of NFC.

GoToTags Raises $300,000 from Mucker Capital

GoToTags, a provider of end-to-end software and tag solutions for NFC deployments, announced today that the company has raised $300,000 in funding from Los Angeles-based Mucker Capital. William Hsu, co-founder and Managing Partner at Mucker, led the firm’s investment in GoToTags. The company will use the funds to expand its sales and marketing operations.

Founded in 2011, GoToTags offers the only end-to-end solution for “Internet of Things” (IoT) projects that use Near Field Communication (NFC). The company provides a suite of hardware, software and services designed to simplify the process and enhance the interactivity of NFC tags. GoToTags also sells NFC tags through its online store, buynfctags.com.

GoToTags has now enabled millions of NFC tags on its platform and has serviced over 15,000 IoT deployments. These projects include ‘smart’ railways, agricultural tracking systems, NFC medical records, interactive museums, and even an NFC voting system. GoToTags’ customers range from individual developers to Fortune 100 companies.

“NFC is finally supported by all the phone manufacturers and the phase of pilot projects is now shifting to large scale deployments,” said Jan Svoboda, a long-time RFID and NFC industry executive and GoToTags advisor. “I see GoToTags leading the way of NFC innovation as the Internet of Things continues to gain popularity.”

“Although our fundraising round hit $1 million, we only took $300,000 because that is all the company needs. We have always run a profitable business and will continue to do so,” said Craig Tadlock, founder and CEO of GoToTags.

New GoToTags Website

After a few years of living with our previous (ugly) website we decided to finally re-do the gototags.com website. Previously we had the website for basic product and company information, and a separate website for our detailed technical product documentation hosted via Zendesk. That system worked for a while but had several drawbacks including SEO, UI and general ease of use. Now we have a shiny new mobile-optimized WordPress site that combines it all.

R.I.P. Old Website