The next evolution of NFC will let you do more with a single tap

NFC button in the quick settings panel
(Image credit: Jay Bonggolto / Android Central)

What you need to know

  • The NFC Forum, which is the standards body for Near Field Communication (NFC) technology, announced its first preview of the next generation of NFC.
  • It's called Multi-purpose Tap, and it will allow you to use NFC for multiple things at the same time. 
  • For example, you could verify your age via mobile ID, pay with a credit card, and get your digital receipt — all with a single NFC tap. 

Mobile payments are used everyday by many, and they're made possible thanks to Near Field Communication (NFC) technology. There are other ways to make digital payments, such as with QR codes, but none are as simple as using NFC. A tiny chip in a smartphone, credit card, or smartwatch can communicate with another chip in a payment terminal, facilitating contactless payments. 

NFC started as a relatively niche tech feature, but it's now considered essential on Android phones, iPhones, and wearables. It's even used in physical credit cards, since NFC  and tap-to-pay are more secure than an EMV chip or a magstripe. Skimmers — devices that inconspicuously attach to the top of payment terminals — can steal the information from an EMV chip or a magstripe. It can't intercept contactless payments made via NFC in the same way, and that's a big security benefit to using tap-to-pay. 

NFC is just as essential as Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, or 5G in 2024. Now that the standard has grown, its creators are already looking ahead to the future. The NFC Forum is the standards body that handles NFC — led by board representatives from companies like  Apple, Google, and Qualcomm — and it outlined a first look at the next generation of the standard. It's called a Multi-purpose tap, and it will expand the amount of data that can be transferred with a single NFC tap. 

The NFC Forum hopes to leverage consumers' familiarity with NFC to eventually roll out multi-purpose tap without much changing for users. There will be more things that can be done with a single NFC tap, but ideally, the experience won't be convoluted for end users. 

“Multi-Purpose Tap will bring even more convenience to contactless user experiences by making it possible for multiple transactions to be seamlessly conducted over the course of one single tap,” said Mike McCamon, who is the executive director of NFC Forum, in a press release. “Consumers and retailers love the security, reliability, and convenience of contactless payments — imagine also logging loyalty points or getting your receipt over that same instantaneous tap.”

College IDs sitting next to an Android phone with the Google Wallet app logo

(Image credit: Chris Wedel / Android Central)

It's easy to see the vision the NFC Forum is trying to make a reality with a multi-purpose tap. Right now, you can use a digital payment card with a service like Google Wallet or Apple Pay to complete a transaction on an NFC-enabled payment terminal. But if you want to earn loyalty points, you'll need a store loyalty card, too. Need a receipt? You might need to provide a phone number or email address or simply settle for a paper copy. The idea behind the Multi-purpose tap is that all of these common tasks could be handled by a single NFC tap in the future.

Of course, the main obstacle to the adoption of the Multi-purpose Tap for NFC will be industry adoption. There's an official document that explains the NFC Forum's goals for the new standard, but the details are yet to be refined. This application for NFC might not require new hardware for the devices making contactless payments, like credit cards or phones. However, it seems hard to believe that payment terminals and point-of-sale software won't need to be upgraded to support this functionality. Getting businesses and governments on board may be tricky because this kind of hardware isn't cheap. 

The NFC Forum explanation for multi-purpose tap.

(Image credit: NFC Forum)

For now, Multi-purpose Tap is in its early stages, and we have no idea when it might become available for consumers. It does appear poised to solve a unique problem that will start affecting NFC and mobile wallets soon, though. 

Why this feels like the natural next step for NFC

Add new card to Google Wallet on Pixel Watch

(Image credit: Android Central)

Mobile wallets, like Google Wallet and Apple Wallet, are constantly expanding and adding support for new types of cards, passes, and features. Their functionality is so robust that some people don't need to carry physical wallets anymore. In some states, a digital driver's license is acceptable as a form of ID. Throw in credit cards, loyalty cards, and boarding passes, and it's possible that mobile wallets are overwhelmed.  

The bottom line is that while digitizing one part of your wallet is great, digitizing the whole thing isn't as convenient. For example, if you need to board a flight and your ID and boarding pass are both in Google Wallet, it'll take you two NFC taps and a bit of navigation to get through airport security. The same goes for if you need to verify your age before making a purchase. Using digital cards and passes in Google Wallet isn't as convenient if it takes multiple taps. 

That's precisely the problem that Multi-purpose Tap is trying to get ahead of. Imagine tapping your phone on a payment terminal, verifying your age, making a payment, and getting your receipt immediately. Imagine you're at the airport, and a single tap verifies your boarding pass and your ID simultaneously. Having too many digital Google Wallet items can become a nuisance, but Multi-purpose Tap would flip the script. 

I'm excited about Multi-purpose Tap, but I'm also skeptical. It's mostly just a proof-of-concept right now, and there's a long way to go. However, if it ends up being widely adopted, Multi-purpose Tap could solve the convenience problem that is starting to affect mobile wallets. 

Brady Snyder

Brady is a tech journalist covering news at Android Central. He has spent the last two years reporting and commenting on all things related to consumer technology for various publications. Brady graduated from St. John's University in 2023 with a bachelor's degree in journalism. When he isn't experimenting with the latest tech, you can find Brady running or watching sports.