Samsung's new NFC-enabled "TecTiles" stickers let you automatically change phone settings, launch apps and send messages just by swiping your compatible smartphone across the stickers. But CIO.com's Al Sacco says TecTiles aren't all they're cracked up to be. Here's why.
Last week I attended Samsung’s U.S. Galaxy S III smartphone launch in New York City. (Read more about the device and check out images and video from the launch.) One of the features Samsung spotlighted at the event is the phone’s ability to use Near Field Communications technology to communicate with “TecTiles,” or small NFC-enabled stickers, to automatically modify phone functions, launch apps, change settings or send messages.
The TecTiles are easy to use. You just download the associated Android app from the Google Play Store, follow the instruction within the app to choose the desired TecTile function and then hold the sticker up to the back of your device to “write” the TecTile. Then you place the sticker wherever you want it and hold the rear panel of your smartphone up to it whenever you want to automatically trigger the function. TecTiles will work “on nearly all phones which have NFC hardware. A few types will only work on phones which have the Samsung TecTile application installed, examples are phone settings and launch an app,” according to the Help section within the TecTile app. (I’m guessing this means nearly all Android phones, but I’m not sure.)
Sounds interesting, right? Sure, but lots of gimmicks sound intriguing at first, before the newness wears thin. I’ve only been using Samsung’s TecTiles along with my Galaxy S III for a few days, and I’m already bored of them. Here’s why.
It’s actually faster and easier for me to launch apps or change settings on my own than it is for me use TecTiles, at least for most purposes. That’s mostly because I can’t just hold up my device to a TecTile to trigger a specific function. For security reasons, NFC is disabled when handhelds are password-locked, so I have to type in my password before I can use a TecTile. If I already have to type, I may as well just click an on-screen icon to launch an app, right? So TecTiles are useless to me when it comes to simply opening applications, such as Twitter or Facebook. (And I won’t even consider not using a password. That’s just asking for trouble. Find out why here.)
You also have to pay for each TecTile; they cost $3 each, and they come in packs of five that sell for $15. That’s not a lot of money, but I really don’t see myself shelling out $15 or $30 or more to automate simple task that I can perform on my own in a matter of seconds. That’s just not a luxury I’m willing to pay for.
TecTiles work fairly well for basic tasks such as turning Wi-Fi or Bluetooth on or off, but I haven’t had much luck with other, more complex tasks. For example, I thought I’d place a TecTile on my desk at work to check in to foursquare every morning. But when I tried to create such a tag, the foursquare feature within the TecTile app only found a small percentage of the venues near me, and my office wasn’t one of them. There’s no way to search for venues that don’t show up. I kept refreshing the feed to see if my office would appear but after a dozen or so refreshes, I gave up.
So far I’ve used TecTiles in my car to enable and disable Bluetooth and at home to turn Wi-Fi on and off. At first, I was mildly impressed. But I already find myself skipping the TecTiles and toggling between settings on my own. It’s just easier that way.
So, for me, Samsung’s NFC-enabled TecTiles are a waste of money.
Al Sacco was a journalist, blogger and editor who covers the fast-paced mobile beat for CIO.com and IDG Enterprise, with a focus on wearable tech, smartphones and tablet PCs. Al managed CIO.com writers and contributors, covered news, and shared insightful expert analysis of key industry happenings. He also wrote a wide variety of tutorials and how-tos to help readers get the most out of their gadgets, and regularly offered up recommendations on software for a number of mobile platforms. Al resides in Boston and is a passionate reader, traveler, beer lover, film buff and Red Sox fan.