Devs produce nine new NFC apps at Boston hackathon

Forty-three developers produced nine prototype NFC applications at Isobar’s 48-hour hackathon in Boston, including systems for ordering drinks in busy bars and an innovative car parking app. Paula Berger was there for NFC World…

Isobar's Create 48 NFC hackathon
CREATE 48: Devs raced the clock to develop new NFC apps in just 48 hours. Click to enlarge.

How difficult is it to create new NFC applications? Public relation and marketing agency Isobar decided to find out earlier this month by hosting ‘Create 48’, a 48-hour NFC hackathon for developers and designers.

According to Michael Nicholas, Isobar’s chief strategy officer and the host of the event, the organizers didn’t know how many hackers to expect. The event was promoted across the internet, through Twitter and by NFC World, and the organizers were happily surprised when 43 developers and designers showed up.

The hackers, split into 11 teams, had 48 hours to develop an NFC application that in some way improved interactions between brands and consumers. Some teams arrived together with ideas in mind and beer in hand, while other teams were formed on the spot by people who’d never met before. Sponsors provided Samsung Nexus S and Nokia handsets, NFC tags, readers, and demo code. Isobar provided the workspace, food and drink, experts to offer advice, and a place to sleep if needed.

Exactly 48 hours later, a panel of seven NFC experts from Nokia, Google, Tieto, and Isobar assembled to judge the results. The judges were impressed that all 11 teams had been able to develop an application concept, and nine had created functional prototypes. The applications were evaluated on the technical implementation, impact on a brand or business, consumer focus, level of innovation, market potential, and overall ‘coolness’.

First place went to OnTap, developed by a group using the name Beer Pants Meeting. The application makes it easy to order and pay in a crowded bar by tapping a mobile phone on NFC tags placed throughout the building. According to the judges, the feature that made it the winner is the social aspect of the application, allowing customers to share coupons and increase the discount value every time they share it.

I Got Your Ticket Right Here by Bazinga took second place, focusing on problems people have when parking in a city. The application locates nearby garages and shows how many spaces are available. Users tap their phone at the garage entrance to check in, then tap when they park to record their spot. The application remembers where the car is parked, sends a warning when the garage is closing, accepts NFC-based discounts or validated parking from local businesses, and handles payment and discounts automatically. Judging panelist Ville Sointu of Tieto noted that this was “a solution you really wanted on your phone immediately”.

Third place winner BarTap by Team Where also addressed the issue of ordering in a crowded bar, but from a restaurant owner’s perspective, even creating sample tools owners could use to create NFC tags to make this work. The judges believed this solution could be deployed with the current hardware and tags quite quickly and without significant costs.

One of the more technically sophisticated entries used NFC peer-to-peer communication to exchange vCard contact information between the Android-based Nexus S phone and Nokia’s Meego-based N9 handset.

Judging panelist Daniel Koulomzin of Google was impressed by the quality of the entries overall. “The teams accomplished a lot in the time they had, presenting working demos complete with supporting web applications. Many of the apps showed a lot of polish and exciting ideas.”