There is always a clue – digging into NFC issues (Part 1)

Dev Con

My name is Martin and I’m part of the BlackBerry® Developer Relations team. I’ve been with RIM® for three years and have worked in software development in various capacities for 30 years in a wide range of industry sectors and on numerous computing platforms small and large. These days I specialize in Near Field Communication (NFC), a technology I find fascinating to work with and I hope to share some of my experiences with you through the Inside BlackBerry Developer’s Blog, starting with this – a two-part mystery.

BlackBerry DevCon Europe in Amsterdam was my first BlackBerry conference and I have to say, I thoroughly enjoyed the experience. It was a great pleasure to meet developers who I’ve been working with by email but have never actually met in person.

Judging by the feedback received from attendees, the presentation I gave with John Murray, “DEV311 – How to develop an NFC enabled app,” was extremely popular. NFC is really a very large topic, especially when you start to move away from the simple use cases such as tag reading and into more technically-involved use cases, such as payment. It was a shame we were limited to a mere one hour. We could have talked about NFC all day!

However, there was an “incident” in the first of two NFC sessions which we presented, and it’s that incident that I want to write about here.

The event organizers had placed flyers on the chairs in the room, advertising another event that John and I would be at. The event is a NFC Hackathon to be held in London the weekend of March 24th and which our carrier partner O2 is sponsoring. (We’d love to see you there. You can find details at the following web site:

The flyers had NFC tags fixed to the back of them and John and I knew nothing about this, so we were somewhat surprised when a member of the audience – as the very first question in our first session – said, “So why can’t my BlackBerry® Bold™ 9900 smartphone read this tag?!”
As anyone who has ever presented or done live demos of anything will know, things do go wrong from time to time and that’s all part of the fun. But this one came out of nowhere and we were, to put it mildly, a little stumped by this question initially!

Problems tend to indicate opportunities though, so given that I was presenting on the topic of tag reading when the question was asked, whilst I couldn’t say anything definite at the time (issues like this need technical investigation, as you’ll see), it did give me the opportunity to talk about standards and degrees of compliance. It’s a fact that of the many makes and types of NFC tags that are out there in the world, some comply 100% with the relevant NFC Forum and ISO standards whilst some do not. We’ve worked hard at RIM to ensure our products comply with those standards since for a technology like NFC to gain wide spread adoption, inter-operability between tags and devices and between devices themselves is absolutely crucial. That said, even if a tag complies fully with the technical standards, it’s still possible to write non-standard content to it, so we all have a responsibility to comply with those standards, not just the device vendors.

Having made my small speech about standards, we moved on and completed the presentation. But the story didn’t end there because neither myself nor John are the kind of people to be satisfied with anything less than a complete and technically accurate answer to issues of this sort! So we collected samples of the flyers with their tags and took them back to the hotel where we proceeded to analyse their content. We call this “NFC Forensics!”

The second part of this story will be posted tomorrow; until then send us your thoughts about what you think happened!

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