NFC Tags: Best Storage Solution by far!

NFC Tags: Best Storage Solution by far!
Photo by Brett Jordan / Unsplash

Home automation today consists of so many smart options and it has made things a lot easier.  But what about things that aren't smart?  Take storage bins for example, we put things in them, we can label them but more often than not we start to clutter those bins with everything else, making it either unmanageable or hard to find.  While watching a recent video from Brett ⍩ | Tech & Smart Home on TikTok, he showed by using a NFC tags you can make storage become smart.

We all have these storage bins, junk drawers or even organizers that we needed a better solution and using some of the same techniques Brett used with my own twist to it, I will provide you with a step by step on how to build one yourself.

But first, for those who are not familiar, what is an NFC tag and how does it work?  NFC stands for Near Field Communication which is a wireless communication technology that enables short-range communication between devices. It operates on the principle of electromagnetic radio fields, allowing devices to establish communication by bringing them close together or tapping them against each other.  NFC tags expanded the use of the technology to allow for a wide range of options.  You can use NFC tags to store data, such as text, web links, or even commands for a smart home.  NFC tags are passive, which means they don't have their own power source.  Instead, the derive power from the electromatnetic field generated by an active NFC device, like your phone.  For security reasons, most smart home products that allow you to use NFC tags only use the pre-stored NFC tag number and associate it with some kind of automation, script, or task.  I would follow this practice when it comes to using these for smart home features as that will only give those who have access to your smart home system the ability to use these tags.

For our case for storage, we will be storing data on our tags.  This data will be a custom URI (Uniform Resource Idendifier) specific to where we store the information for our storage bins.  Like Brett, I have chose to use the Notes app on iOS along with the Shortcuts App.  Between my spouse and myself  we share a notes folder called Storage.  Within this folder we have created a new note for each bin we have.  To simplify things we have used a sharpie to write a number on each box, this number corresponds with the note.  For example, we use Bin 1, Bin 2, etc.  

Step 1: Installing and using App
I used the free tool NFC Tools which is available on both Apple App Store and Google Play Store.  After opening up NFC Tools you will be given 4 options, only 2 of which you will be using during this setup (feel free to explore the app for other use cases), which are Read and Write.

Step 2: Writing to an NFC tag
By pressing the Write button you are prompted with 3 options, Add a record, More Options, and Write.  For our purpose, press the Add a record button.

You will notice there are a lot of options to chose from.  We will be using Custom URL / URI, press this button and you should be given a screen that is asking you to Enter your URI.  in the text field, either type or copy and paste the following:


Let me break down what this is doing shortcuts:// is a custom URI built for the Shortcuts app on the iPhone, this tells your phone you want to open this application.  run-shortcut is the command that will be executed within the Shortcuts App once it has loaded. ?name=Lookup%20Storage is the first parameter that is being passed (after ? in an URL, these are referred to as parameters or arguments) which provides the name of the Shortcut. &input=text tells the Shortcuts App that you will be providing it a text input and &text=Bin%201 is the text that is being provided.  When it comes to creating multiple NFC tags, that last part is what will be changed to reflect the bin numbers.  As you may have noticed %20 is shown in 2 of the above parameters which is referred to as a encoded string representing a space.  If you've ever noticed when looking at a website url, there are never any spaces, and where spaces might be you will either see a %20 or +.  Since Shortcuts App doesn't recognize a + as a space, but as a plus sign, we will be using %20.

Once this is complete, press the OK button in the upper right, then press the Write / ## Bytes button (## represents the number of bytes that specific action will use. In my case, it was 75 but yours may differ).  At this point you should notice a popup at the bottom of the screen that states Ready to Scan and says below that Approach an NFC tag.  Bring your NFC tag to the top edge of the phone, if it worked you will see a blue checkmark, if not, move the phone around a little bit until it reacts.  At this point you have successfully written to an NFC tag.

Step 3: Now what?
Ok, so you've now written to an NFC tag, great!  Scan it, what did it do?  You will see a popup that says Shortcuts NFC tag, Open in Shortcuts.  When you tap this, I bet it told you The file doesn't exist.  Could not find the shortcut "Lookup Storage", am I right?  This is where the magic happens.  

Below is a link to download the Lookup Storage shortcut right to your phone.  This shortcut gives you the ability to View the contents of a bin, Add to a bin, Search a bin or Remove an item from the bin.  As things progress a new version will become available and I'd hope that you'd subscribe to our newsletter to find cool things we find.

Click here to download

I would suggest that after you've installed it, tested it to make sure it works for you, that you open up the information button at the bottom of the shortcut and click on Add to Home Screen.  I created the shortcut to prompt you to enter a Bin # (ie. Bin 1) and this will allow you to use the features just the same if you are looking for something but don't want to always go to scan an NFC tag.