When I hand out business cards at trade shows and other events, I always wonder if they'll end up on the bottom of someone's bag--or, worse, in the trash. Over the years, I've tried several smartphone apps designed to exchange contact information, but many of them work only if both people have the software installed. Recently, I tried out two promising alternatives, near-field communication and QR codes, at the L.A. Auto Show.

Near-field communication, which now comes standard on some high-end smartphones, makes it possible to transmit contact information and other data by tapping another device, card, or tag containing an NFC chip. I tested it using Vizibility's NFC Mobile Wallet Card, which looks like a plastic business card and contains an NFC chip and a QR code. To create my card, I went to the Vizibility site, typed in my contact details, and chose a design with a stock logo (you can also upload your own logo). I signed up for the premium Metrics Pack, which costs $5 a month, or $49 a year, and includes an NFC card, which was mailed to me, and the ability to track activity online. For an extra $15, I also purchased 240 QR code stickers to slap on my old-school business cards, making it possible for people to scan the code with a smartphone app and instantly upload my information.

As I wandered the aisles of the auto show, I came across a company rep with an NFC-enabled smartphone. Uploading my contact information was a cinch: He opened the Android Beam feature and tapped his phone to my card. But, of the three dozen people I talked to throughout the rest of the day, only one had an NFC-enabled phone. In fact, most people had never heard of the technology.

I had more luck with my QR code. About a dozen auto-show attendees I approached had QR scanning apps on their phones, which allowed them to pull up my virtual business card. Some people were too busy to grab their phones, so I gave them paper cards with my code. After the show, I logged on to Vizibility.com and saw that another dozen people had scanned the code. Not bad! Unfortunately, I could not see their names or contact details, only their locations.

My verdict? Near-field communication is promising, but it may take another year or two for it to catch on as more phones with NFC chips hit the market. I was more impressed with QR codes. Now, I can rest easier knowing my contact information is safely stored in the phones of the people I meet, just a tap away.


Near-Field Communication

How it works: You can transmit contact information by tapping together two products containing NFC chips.

Available on: Many high-end smartphones, including Androids and BlackBerrys, as well as stickers, tags, and business cards with built-in NFC chips

QR Codes

How they work: People can scan QR codes with a wide array of mobile apps to access your contact information.

Available on: Business cards, stickers, and mobile apps