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Android: Use an NFC tag to connect to your car’s audio

NFC Stickers from eBay India

NFC Stickers from eBay India

I have been wanting to try out NFC tags. What stopped me was the price, availability in India and compatibility with various phones.  So just to have fun with tags, I settled down with QR Code and Microsoft tags until recently. Few weeks back, I ordered a pack of 5 NFC tags from eBay India  for Rs. 295/- from eBay India.NFC (Near Field Communication) tags contain a microchip which can store small amount of information. An NFC enabled phone can read this information when you bring the phone close to the tag or tap on it.

First, I tested the NFC tags for simple website links. I found that Android and Windows Phone could read them and launch the website without requiring any special apps. Note that iPhone 6 is also rumoured to have NFC support.

Next, I wanted to stick an NFC tag in my car such that when I tap this tag, my phone should connect to the car’s audio/music system via Bluetooth and start playing music. But this could not be done without using specialized NFC apps for mobile, like Trigger app for Android.

I installed the Trigger app from Google Play Store on my Galaxy Nexus Android phone. Trigger is a sophisticated app which can be used to automate tasks on the phone based on various triggers. The triggers can be when you connect to a Wifi network or a Bluetooth device, when an NFC tag is tapped, when battery is low, time, location etc. Some of these features require to upgrade to the Pro version. But for my requirement, the free version worked.

With the help of Trigger, I could achieve the following:

When the NFC tag is tapped:

  • Turn on the phone’s Bluetooth
  • Connect to the car’s Bluetooth
  • Launch Google Play Music
  • Start playing my songs

When the NFC tag is tapped again (for the second time):

  • Disconnect from the car’s Bluetooth by turning off Bluetooth on the phone

Once the trigger (an NFC tap in this case) and the tasks (turning on Bluetooth, playing music etc.) are setup on Trigger app, the app will write to the NFC tag. Following are the step-by-step instructions to setup the NFC tag using Trigger:

First, pair your Android phone with your car’s audio system. Next, make sure NFC is enabled on your phone. Typically, NFC settings will be found under Settings>Wireless & Networks>More.

Launch the Trigger app. On the screen titled Suggested Tasks or My Tasks or Trigger, Click on the + on the top right. On the next screen, titled Triggers, click on the + icon. Select NFC. On the screen titled “Configure NFC task”, click on Next. On the screen titled “Add restrictions”, click on Done.  This will take you back to the Triggers screen. Click on Next.

On the screen titled Task, click on +. On the screen titled “Choose Categories”, select Bluetooth. Click on “Connect a Device” to tick it. Click on Next. This will show a popup titled “Configure Actions”. Assuming that you have already paired your car’s audio system, the system’s name will show up when you click on Choose a device. In my case, the car’s music is named “My Radio”. Select it and click on “Add to Task”.

Android Trigger App: Select Already Paired Bluetooth Device

Android Trigger App: Select Already Paired Bluetooth Device

Back to the Task screen, click on the + icon again. On the “Choose Categories” screen, scroll down and click on Media. Click on “Start media playback” and then click on Next. On the popup titled “Configure Actions”, click on “Add to task”.

Back to the Task screen, enter a Name for the task (default is Task 1). For example, enter Car: First NFC Tap. Click on Next.

Turn off Bluetooth when NFC tag is tapped again
Trigger allows to turn off the Bluetooth when NFC is tapped again. Trigger also allows you to automatically turn off Bluetooth on a disconnect with the car, say, when you turn off the car.

If you want to setup the latter, on the next screen titled Switch, click on Done and skip to “Write to the NFC tag” section of this blog post. If you want to setup the second tap on NFC, continue with the following.

The screen titled Switch allows you to setup tasks when the NFC tag is tapped again. We want to turn off the Bluetooth when the tag is tapped again. For this, click on the +.  On the popup titled “Select a Task”, click on “+ New Task”. Back on the Switch screen, click on + (top right). Select Bluetooth>Bluetooth On/Off. Click on Next. On the “Configure Actions” popup, select Disable for Bluetooth On/Off. Click on “Add to Task”.

On the Switch screen, type in a name for the task say, Car: Second NFC Tap. Click on Done.

Write to the NFC Tag
The subsequent screen will prompt you to write to the NFC tag. Bring the phone close to a NFC tag till the phone vibrates and/or plays a notification sound. The Trigger app will show Tag written successfully“. Click on Done.This will take you back to the Triggers/My Tasks screen which will show something as follows:

Anroid Trigger App Setup: NFC for Car Music System

Anroid Trigger App Setup: NFC for Car Music System

All done. Now stick/place the NFC tag in your car. Tapping it should connect your phone with the car’s audio system and start playing the music. Sometimes if you haven’t switched to Bluetooth source in your music system, the music player will launch but not play the music. In this case, just swipe down from the top of the screen of your Android phone. This will reveal the Music app on the notification bar. Click on the play button.

If you tap the phone against the NFC tag again, it will switch off the Bluetooth. The music will pause automatically when Bluetooth disconnects.

What if you forget the second tap?
This may happen to you as it happens to me too. What if in a hurry to get out of the car, you forget to tap the NFC tag to turn off the Bluetooth? Bluetooth remains on and guzzles up your battery. Trigger has an option to take care of this. Trigger can turn off Bluetooth when the phone is disconnected from a particular Bluetooth device. So the moment you turn off the car and the music system disconnects with your phone, Bluetooth will automatically be turned off.

For this, click on + on My Tasks screen – which shows your configured task like the screenshot above. On the Triggers screen, click on +. On “Select Trigger”, select Bluetooth. On the next screen titled “Configure Bluetooth task”, select “When disconnected from”. Select your car’s music system’s name from the list of paired devices displayed at the bottom. Click on Next. On the “Add restrictions” screen, click on Done. Back on the Triggers screen, click on Next. Click on + on the Task screen. Click on Bluetooth>Bluetooth On/Off. Click on Next.  On the “Configure Actions” popup, select Disable for “Bluetooth On/Off”. Click on “Add to Task”.

Type in the name of the task say, Car: Bluetooth Disconnect. Click on Done. This will take you back to the My tasks screen which will look similar to the screenshot below:

Android Trigger App: Automatically Turn Off Bluetooth When A Device Disconnects

Android Trigger App: Automatically Turn Off Bluetooth When A Device Disconnects

Note: Trigger app turns on the Bluetooth while setting up Bluetooth based triggers and tasks. Don’t forget to turn Bluetooth off after you are done with the setup.

Am I exited about this setup? Not much. Such platform specific (Android) and app specific (Trigger) solutions are no fun. I have a NFC capable Windows phone and plan to buy iPhone 6 for my wife. But alas, neither devices will be able to read this tag.

Even within the Android domain, the Trigger app must be installed for all of this to work. One plus point is, if the Trigger app is not installed, an NFC tap takes you to the Google Play Store to install the app.

Ultimate Solution? Either apps like Trigger are available cross platform or the basic NFC capabilities of phones are extended as per a standard. Till then this is an Android only solution, unfortunately.

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2 comments for “Android: Use an NFC tag to connect to your car’s audio”

  1. RT @shekharg: @durgeshgarg http://t.co/0tswmjzz0A

    Posted by durgeshgarg | July 21, 2014, 1:46 pm
  2. Thanks to @shekharg blogpost http://t.co/wTbxclzM52 successfully installed NFC tag to enable my car audio system by just one phone touch

    Posted by durgeshgarg | July 21, 2014, 1:49 pm

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