On one corner of my desk, a small white sticker not much bigger than a quarter clings like a limpet. Square in shape with rounded corners, this sticker is not your typical Lisa Frank decoration emblazoned with glitter, rainbows and unicorns (although that would be cool). This sticker is all business.

It’s rare that I actually affix a sticker to any type of surface. Peeling off the backing and placing a sticker somewhere usually means that you can’t move it anywhere else, and I’d rather leave things in limbo and preserve all my options. That being said, I got serious about this particular sticker and gave it a permanent home because it’s ever so much more than a sticker: it’s a TecTile.

​Samsung TecTiles are smart NFC (Near Field Communication) tags that can be programmed to trigger a range of different actions on compatible devices. Samsung graciously gave me several TecTiles for experimentation purposes, despite the fact that the only NFC-enabled device I currently own is a Nexus 7 (which is not supported by TecTiles at the moment).

The basic idea is that you purchase a 5-pack of TecTiles for around $15, download the free Samsung TecTile app, and then use it to program the tags to do things like: change the settings on your phone, launch applications, check-in to places, update Facebook or Twitter status, or make a phone call or send a text message automatically. Once your TecTile has been programmed, you simply place it somewhere convenient (as long as that somewhere is not a metal surface) and then tap your device to the tag any time you want to perform the action or actions stored on it.

TecTiles can be locked so that no one, not even the person who programmed the tag in the first place, can make any changes; or they can be left open so that anyone with the TecTile app can program them at any time.

It took about four tries but my Nexus 7 eventually detected the TecTile on my desk. I was able to tell it to check me in to Bottle Rocket on Foursquare. With visions of upsetting the reigning Mayor of the office dancing in my head, I waved my tablet repeatedly over the TecTile. Nothing happened. I gave the thing some time to cool off and tried again, and this time I heard the Nexus 7 emit a little chirp and Foursquare launched like magic.

Despite the fact that TecTiles cause things to happen automagically and represent a fairly awesome idea, the TecTiles app experience feels spare and limited. It’s almost as if Samsung didn’t want to dedicate resources to crafting a compelling brand identity for the technology or to creating a guided experience around TecTiles before launching them. The app functions perfectly well for what it allows users to do, but as far as apps go it’s just not any fun. Waving your device over an unobtrusive sticker that makes something useful happen on your screen feels like magic; the current app misses the opportunity to reinforce feelings of wonder and delight.

On app launch, a standard dashboard layout offers four different categories of actions: Settings & Apps, Phone & Text, Location & Web, and Social. After you choose a category, the app steps you through the configuration process and then programs the NFC tag according to your specifications. As far as I can tell, individual TecTiles are able to store more than one action – but I haven’t been able to figure out how many they can store due to the limitations of my testing setup.

​Mid-way through my intensive investigation into the properties and potential of TecTiles, I was asked to change desks and move across the office to a different space. I took the opportunity to find out how a TecTile would behave when peeled off a surface. To my disappointment, not only did the TecTile leave gooey adhesive residue behind, the tag peeled off its sticker backing so that I had to scrape it off my desk. I stuck all the parts back together as best I could but that particular tag no longer functions.

While I wish TecTiles were reusable, they never promise to act like anything other than stickers and they’re relatively cheap. I can see myself sticking a TecTile to my night stand and using it to set my alarm, enter silent mode, and dim my screen for nighttime reading. The app interface could use some love. But even though my Nexus 7 has an uneasy relationship with TecTiles, I’m not giving up on my dream of becoming Mayor of Bottle Rocket.

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(originally published on BAD YEWEX)