As we noted back in December, the somewhat crippled implementation of NFC (near field communication) in the Android operating system was only meant to be temporary. Full NFC support would arrive via a series of incremental updates – and now, the first of those updates has arrived. With the Android 2.3.3 release, Google has added new capabilities for developers, including updates to the API (application programming interface) that now allow for both reading and writing to standard NFC tags.

According to the Android Developers blog, some of the new features include:

  • A comprehensive NFC reader/writer API that lets apps read and write to almost any standard NFC tag in use today.
  • Advanced Intent dispatching that gives apps more control over how/when they are launched when an NFC tag comes into range.
  • Some limited support for peer-to-peer connection with other NFC devices.

For end users of NFC-enabled Android devices, what this means is that applications now have more control about how they are launched when an NFC tag is read. For example, apps could listen for specific tag content or tag technologies, and only launch when a match was made. Plus, applications running in the foreground could stop another app from launching upon the tag reading event, if need be.

The updated platform also provides a limited peer-to-peer communication protocol and API for setting up things like Bluetooth or DLNA connections. That would mean that two NFC-enabled devices could share data when in close proximity. It’s easy to imagine how developers could build apps for contact sharing or photo sharing using NFC.

Also new is the ability for developers to write tags, when before NFC allowed tag reading only. This two-way communication is an important aspect to any sort of NFC-backed mobile payment solution, such as the one Google is reportedly building now.

Google says it expects most devices shipping with an Android 2.3 platform will run 2.3.3 going forward.

More details for developers are here in the 2.3.3 version notes.

sarah perez