30 March 2012
NFC technology the new QR code, according to Ryerson panelist
TORONTO—Packaging that can tell your microwave how long to cook food?

That's a possibility of a rising technology called near field communication (NFC), those on hand for the Ryerson University Graphics Communication Management Colloquium 2012 (Spark) last night.

The technology allows smartphones to communicate with chips—or "tags"—embedded in printed material, including magazine pages, posters and packaging of all kinds, to offer more information for the consumer with a tap of the phone near the tag.

Greg Carron of BNotions, which develops mobile apps, demonstrates an NFC-tag embedded movie poster

Owen Duckman, president of Labelad which specializes in pressure-sensitive labels and flexible packaging, was on hand to talk about the new technology. He predicts NFC will trump quick response—QR—codes, which take a smartphone user to a website by scanning a code on printed material. NFC will allow "endless possibilities", including the ability to 'like' an item via Facebook just by tapping it, he said.

Wired magazine is currently using NFC tags in printed ads, as highlighted by this article in NFC World.

The technology could also mean "talking packaging" for the visually impaired via a smartphone, and the ability to program cooking time just by touching packaging to a microwave. "It's not so far-fetched, it's a matter of creativity and cost," said Duckman.

And what is the cost? About 30¢ to 50¢ per tag, the audience heard. The tags are vulnerable to static, and not all smartphones are compatible with them yet, although it's becoming a more common feature, explained Duckman.

There are also currently privacy concerns related to NFC technology in terms of what information is being collected from users, and the tags can potentially interfere with recycling, the panelists offered.

Also on the panel at Spark was J.P. Lacroix, president of Toronto design firm Shikatani Lacroix. He predicts the NFC technology will improve to allow taps from a further distance (currently the phone is activated within 2-3 cm). What will really be a "turning point" for NFC, offered Lacroix, is if the Canadian government allows the technology to replace all information currently on packaging.

Lacroix also offered an analysis of a white paper he wrote regarding the future of packaging related to the online shopping process. The report, Packaging in an Online World, was based on research from Sept. 2011 involving input from 1,000 consumers who had purchased an online product in the last three months.

To read more about the white paper and download the full report, click here.

The Spark presentations were followed by NFC product demos and dinner at Ryerson's Heidelberg Centre. The colloquium is an annual event hosted by third year students of Ryerson's Graphic Communications Management program.
— Jeff Hayward
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