My automated life with NFC and IFTTT


If you’re either lazy, highly organised or interested in new technologies then this post is for you. I’m currently experimenting with three very cool technologies which work with my smartphone and other devices. The three areas I’m looking at are…

  • Wireless charging
  • NFC tags
  • IFTTT automation

Basically at the end of the process I should be able to do things like simply placing my phone on my bedside unit and it will do the following: charge wirelessly, set my alarm, reduce the volume of the phone, dim the screen, switch off Bluetooth and do pretty much anything else I want it to do. No wires or clicks required. If this sounds like witchcraft to you, read on.

Wireless charging
I recently read an article on Pocket-lint on wireless charging and there was a video by someone who had integrated a wireless charger into his bedside unit so that at bedtime he just had to place his mobile phone on the unit and it would start charging. No fumbling around for a cable. And to top it off, the beside unit he used is the exact same one that I have. I will have to buy a wireless charger but I’m up for getting one and trying it out.

NFC tags
NFC tags have been around for a while, in things like Oyster travel cards in London. They are now, however, really cheap and easy to use and can be used with more and more smartphones. A colleague of mine at LEWIS PR bought some from Amazon and I think they were only about £1 each. They came as a simple sticker and look quite cool (see image at the top of this post). They’re about the size of a 50p coin. I downloaded an app called NFC Task Launcher (no longer available at this link but I believe it is now called Trigger) which lets you make a Task. This can be anything such as switching WiFi or Bluetooth on, changing the volume, setting an alarm or checking into FourSquare. Anything you can do on your phone you can create a task for. You can also create multiple actions in a Task. When you then simply place your phone next to that NFC chip these tasks are performed automatically. For example if you had one in your car you could set it to automatically change your phone settings to increase the volume and switch on Bluetooth whenever you placed your phone on the dashboard or wherever. No wires or buttons. You just need to place your phone near the NFC tag.

IFTTT automation
IFTTT has been around for a few years. If This Then That. A simple programming concept to create chain tasks that automate when you do stuff online. For example when you favourite a picture on Instagram it can update your Facebook status and also save a copy of the photo to your DropBox. Or if someone mentions you on Twitter you can add it to a spreadsheet on Google Drive. You can mix and match actions to create your own ‘recipes’. But this month they have taken this to the next level and entered the physical world. You can buy real world devices which work with IFTTT such as switches and motion sensors. You can sync a weather website to automatically work out when the sun sets and this then switches on your lights at home. Or set an alarm to automatically switch on your main bedroom light at a certain time each morning. Or if someone walks into your child’s bedroom it could automatically send you a text. I could go on. And on.

The combinations of all the above are endless, and they aren’t just gimmicky. This is actual helpfulness to make our lives easier. You could combine the above to have a unit in the hall of your house that when you come home from work you place your phone on the unit and it starts charging, checks you in on FourSquare, switches on WiFi, turns your lights on in the house, sends your wife a text that you’re home and starts playing music on your Bluetooth speakers.

The possibilities are endless. If you can think of a mundane electronic task you have to do it can probably be automated in some way. The problem is that the time I save will probably be spent thinking of more cool ways to use this tech. Time well spent I reckon.

Got any other cool ideas for using this tech? Let me know in the comments.

My Nexus 4 Review

Nexus 4 phone

Just over a week ago I got my new Nexus 4. I thought I’d give it at least a week before I wrote a blog post about it so that I could really get to use it properly and get over the ‘new phone’ excitement. Well to be honest I’m still not quite over it. It’s easily the best phone I’ve had and there’s only a very few things I’m not totally happy with.

Good – First thing that hit me was the size of the screen. Much larger than my  previous Nexus S and my work iPhone. Great for watching videos but occasionally a menu button is a bit of a stretch away when holding it in one hand. I am, however, already totally used to it. In fact it’s really strange now to go back to a smaller phone. The weight and build of it is also very nice. Sturdy and classy. Nice glass most of the way round.
Bad – It looks slick and unfortunately it actually is a bit slick. Slippy, that is. The edges are a bit too smooth and it can be quite easy to drop if you’re not careful. It can also be quite hard to pick up from a desk actually when it’s lying flat. I didn’t want to have use a skin or case on this phone, as it’s so beautiful without one and I was going to put my faith in the Gorilla Glass, but I actually have bought a case for it now just to give me better grip on it. The biggest problem I have with the handset is that the main power button is very inset. It hardly sticks out at all. This can actually become a problem when, for example, it’s night time and you reach over and want to press the power button to wake it up and see what time it is or if you have any missed calls. It can actually be hard to feel which way round the phone is and where the button is.

Good – Everything is good with video. Any format of video played, especially with VLC or MX Player. Easy to transfer videos to your phone or to download them from the great Google Play library. Beautiful streaming on Netflix, TVCatchup, YouTube, TED, BBC iPlayer etc. All looking great on the 4″ screen. Maybe it’s not officially called a retina screen but its certainly good enough for me.
Bad – erm, it’s not 3D?

Good – Well this is the main draw of Android, and it doesn’t disappoint. So much control over your app organisation, your home page and your lock screen all as standard. Then you can also install third party menu ‘launchers’. And I’m not going to even get into the things you can do if you root the phone.
Bad – Doesn’t seem to have things like Do Not Disturb features or pre-written text replies but I’m still looking. I could be wrong. If not then I’m sure there are apps for that.

Good – Android apps really have come on in leaps and bounds in the last two years. In some cases they can be better than iOS apps it seems (Spotify I’m looking at you). Just smoother or more settings etc. Maybe there’s a technical reason for this. The apps just pop. So quick and smooth. Probably due to the quad-core Snapdragon processor. They never use to work so well on my previous Nexus S. All the main apps that you could name are all available on Android now of course and are all really well supported. Android is no longer just the immature wee brother of iOS. It’s all grown up and is fighting for the crown. And the Google Play store is awesome now. Way more intuitive than the latest version of the App Store in my opinion. Also, I am a pretty heavy Google user: Google Drive, Google Calendar, Google Bookmarks, Google Reader. I use all these many times a day and Android obviously links in natively to these platforms and the apps all work seamlessly.
Bad – There are a few popular newer apps which are still iOS only (such as Vine) but there’s not too many and the number is coming down all the time.

gReader Pro
Google Drive
Google Calendar
Google Maps

And I need to give an honourable mention to all the retro gaming emulators out there. So much more choice on Android. Excellent ZX Spectrum, BBC Micro, NES, SNES, Mega Drive and MAME emulators available.

All-in-all, pound for pound the best phone out there and the first iPhone beater in my opinion. Android finally done right.

This Gizmodo user review about the Nexus 4 helped me make my decision to get it and is definitely worth a read if you’re interested in the phone.