What is NFC/RFID technology?
RFID stands for Radio Frequency IDentification: It is a tagging technology that uses radio frequency waves that are either active, passive, or both. Active RFID tags have a power source that extends their reach, while passive RFID tags rely on internal energy. They're small, and they can be hidden and still read. This makes them pretty useful on products, luggage, animals and so forth. They operate on a wide range so they can transmit information across several kilometers.
NFC stands for Near Field Communication:
NFC is a subset of RFID, and transmits across much much smaller distances, centimeters as opposed to kilometers! Because they have such a small range, they are usually passive. They're increasingly equipped in mobile phones to allow for mobile payment and transmitting information securely.
Example uses of NFC:
In Nice (right near where I grew up), people have been using NFC on Samsung mobile phones instead of using their bus pass. It's called Cityzi, and people can also collect points using the system. You can read more about that here. It has also caused some problems between suppliers, and you can read more about that on the NFC Times.
Google Gingerbread for Android supports NFC technology (Nexus S device). Computer scientists will be familiar with the GENETAG project, because it's always been a nice corpus to work from, but now, you can test for pregnancy, fertility, pathogens, AIDS, drugs, allergens, and even certain types of cancers, using technology based on immunoassays. You stick the NFC chip to your skin like you would a band aid, then the NFC reader in your phone reads the results and sends them to your doctor. You can read a lot more about that here.
Even monks living in a 13 century monastery in the Czech Republic are using NFC.
NFC has some pretty obvious uses, such as paying for things via mobile, medical applications, interacting with a smart environment, and integrating real world data with our virtual world. It's no wonder Google are hungry for NFC experts right now (See Search Engine Journal). It's pretty clear how useful this technology would be if you wanted to significantly improve local search. As for rumours around "Cream", Google's mobile payment service, I suggest a read of this.
Some interesting papers I found about it all:
Touch the future with a smart phone (Tuikka, Tuomo,Isomursu, Minna)
Visual design of physical user interfaces for NFC-based mobile interaction (Hang, Broll, Wiethoff) [not free - ACM members only]
RFID and NFC in healthcare: Safety of hospitals medication care (Lahtela, Hassinen, Jylha) [Not free - IEEE members only]
Next generation eTicketing (Stroh, Schneiderbauer, Amling, Kreft)
I am pretty excited at all the interesting things we can do to use NFC is fun ways in gaming and social communities. This could be a lot of fun. Of course we still need to keep on eye of data security, and ensure we're not giving away more than we'd want to.