NFC tags are tiny wireless storage devices, with very thin antennas, attached to poker chip sized stickers. They're sort of like RFID tags, but they only have a 1 inch range, come in various capacities, and can be easily rewritten. If the next iPhone adds a NFC reader I think they'll be huge. As it is they're already pretty fun and only a buck each even when bought in small quantities.
Marketers haven't figured it out yet, but no one wants to scan QR barcodes. The hassle with QR codes is that you have to fire up a special barcode reader application and then carefully focus on the barcode with your phone's camera. NFC tags have neither of those problems. If your phone is awake it's "looking for" NFC tags, and there's no aiming involved -- just tap your phone on the tag.
A NFC tag stores a small amount of data that's made available to your phone when tapped. It can't make you phone do anything your phone doesn't already do, and your phone shouldn't be willing to do anything destructive or irreversible (send money) without asking for your confirmation.
People are using NFC tags to turn on bluetooth when their phone is placed in a stickered cup-holder, to turn off their email notification checking when their phone is placed on their nightstand, and to bring up their calculator when their phone is placed on their desk. Most anything your phone can do can be triggered by a NFC tag.
NFC tags are already in use for transit passes, access keys, and payment systems. I can go to any of a number of businesses near my home and make a purchase by tapping my phone against the Master Card PayPass logo on the card scanner. My phone will then ask for a pin and ask me to confirm the purchase price which is deducted from my Google Wallet or charged to my Citi MasterCard.
I'm still batting around ideas for a first NFC project, maybe a geocaching / scavenger-hunt-like trail of tags with clues, but meanwhile I made some fake Master Card PayPass labels that are decidedly more fun:
Keep in mind that phone has absolutely no non-standard software or settings on it. Any NFC-reader equipped phone that touches that tag will be rick rolled. Now to get a few of those out on local merchants' existing credit card readers.
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