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UX Design Newsletter – August 2012

Sachendra YadavInteraction Model for NFC Enabled Applications

HFI Writer Sachendra Yadav, CUA
Without a user model in place, NFC enabled applications may end up a mix of poorly thought out interfaces.

Eric SchafferMessage from the CEO

Dr. Eric Schaffer, Ph.D., CUA,CXA, CPE, Founder and CEO of HFI offers practical advice.

Interaction Model for NFC Enabled Applications

Introduction to NFC

Near field communication (NFC) is a short-range wireless technology that allows users to connect devices and access content and services by simply holding enabled devices near each other.

Once NFC chips are integrated into devices, a host of new applications can be built that can:

  • Pay for goods and services
  • Help people access such things as public transport, office buildings, or their cars
  • Download music, videos, and discount coupons from smart posters
  • Share content such as music, videos and photographs
  • exchange business cards

A few Android smartphones already support NFC and Microsoft and Apple are expected to integrate NFC in the phones to be launched in late 2012.

According to a recent study, one-third of iPhone users indicated that they were “likely” or “very likely” to use mobile payments. Analysis from Juniper Research states that the NFC mobile payments market will exceed $75 billion globally by 2013, when 20% of all phones shipped will possess NFC capability.

With these developments, a flurry of NFC enabled apps is expected to hit the market. Anokwa, Borriello, Pering and Want contend that since NFC can be used both for simple interactions like touching a secure door with a cell phone to gain access, and for more complex scenarios such as buying a movie ticket. Without a user model in place, NFC enabled applications may end up a mix of poorly thought out interfaces without a unifying interaction model.

User interaction models

To solve this problem, Anokwa et al. introduce a user interaction model for NFC enabled applications which relies on users’ existing mental model of the objects which they are interacting with. When a device scans an item it takes on the properties and context of that item. This transformation leverages the existing knowledge that users have about certain objects and thus can support a number of different applications tied together with simple, intuitive and repeatable interactions.

The manner in which the current interaction model works is that if you scan a smart movie poster, it gives you a URL that points to a movie site where you can purchase the ticket. After purchase, the device is authorized and allows access to the theater. Unfortunately, this model ignores the existing mental model of the user. If you buy a movie ticket in the real world, you get a physical object that you can interact with. You can verify and see if the ticket is correct, keep the stub as a souvenir, or you may also give the ticket to a friend.

The proposed interaction model simulates the real world. If the device scanned a smart movie poster, it could take on the properties of the ticket, containing all the information printed on a standard ticket. The user could transfer the ticket to a friend’s phone. After the ticket is used for accessing the theater, it could become a ticket stub.

Scenario to illustrate the
user interaction model

To make this interaction model easier to understand, the researchers have also created a sample scenario that illustrates it very well:

John is walking through the mall when he sees a new movie poster that has been placed near the food court. The poster boasts a new NFC based technology called MovieTouch. John knows his Motorola E680 phone is NFC enabled so he touches the poster with his phone. Immediately, the E680 beeps and displays a list of objects and actions that the poster has sent to the phone.
He doesn’t know much about this new movie, so he selects the “View Trailer” action on his phone. The trailer is downloaded over a WiFi or Bluetooth connection and starts playing on the phone’s media player. While watching the trailer, he learns that the movie stars Drake Stone.
It turns out that John’s girlfriend Alice is a huge Drake Stone fan and would probably want to see the movie tonight. John returns to his objects and actions menu and this time selects “Buy Tickets.” The phone’s location service selects the nearest theater and, using the phone, John buys two tickets. Looking through the “New Objects” list on his phone, John confirms that he has both tickets and moves one to his public bag and the other to his “Alice Bag.”
John calls Alice and tells her to meet him at the theater because he has a surprise for her. When they meet, John has Alice touch her phone to his. Alice sees the movie ticket in John’s “Alice Bag” and is thrilled at the surprise. She downloads the ticket from John’s phone to hers. She then places her ticket in her public bag.
When Alice and John enter the theater, they touch their phones to the access point. It authorizes their access to the Drake Stone movie and leaves a virtual movie stub in their public bags that Alice and John can keep as a souvenir.


Connected lifestyle devices are integral to every aspect of our lives, and because of this, NFC enabled mobile devices have the potential to transform the way we access places, share information and pay for goods and services. This model makes the interaction intuitive because the mobile device behaves like the object in the physical world and the user can relate to the state of the virtual object.


A User Interaction Model for NFC Enabled Applications. Yaw Anokwa, Gaetano Borriello, Trevor Pering, Roy Want (April 2007)

Great idea as long as the discrete buzz of the movie ticket purchase is different than the notifications about your bank deposit, arriving text message from your mother, awaiting voice mail from your boss, and latest goal in your favorite team's game. Also, this buzz needs to be perceptible while the phone is inside my purse!

Ilona Posner

Reader comments on this and other articles.
Message from the CEO, Dr. Eric Schaffer
Eric Schaffer

Sachendra points out that we are entering yet another shift in interface modalities. Certainly our HCI fundamentals will continue to work. But the NFC interface will have special challenges.

The strategy of using physical metaphors has a long history of helping people transition to a new technology. It also has a history of creating awkward interfaces that are replaced by designs that fully optimize the efficiency of the device.

So we might well end up where you walk into the movie theatre and feel a discrete buzz as your phone pays the tab (OK, with an undo function just in case).

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