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iPhone 14 – Updates to NFC and NFC Tags with iOS 16 in 2022

Apple announced the release of iOS 16 at their annual WWDC event in June 2022. The long-awaited iPhone 14, iPhone 14 Plus, iPhone 14 Pro, and iPhone 14 Pro Max were announced in September 2022. The list of features has been explored ad nauseam since these releases, but what do these updates mean for the iPhone 14 NFC experience? The good news is that Apple is still leaning into NFC technology. They retained the NFC capabilities introduced in previous iOS and iPhone versions and are adding additional features reliant on iPhone NFC technology.

NFC, a type of RFID technology, was first seen in iPhone 6, but the usage was locked down tightly so as to only allow contactless payment via ApplePay. Since the release of iPhone 7 and iOS 11 in 2016 iPhones have contained native hardware to support NFC functionality. Despite the rival Google Android devices having adopted NFC hardware and software as early as 2010, Apple has been very guarded in allowing access to NFC to developers in their native SDKs.

This reluctance to open access to iPhone NFC functionality had been a substantial hindrance to the broader adoption of NFC technology. According to Statista, in February 2012 iOS surpassed 30% market share of smartphone users within the US. That number has only grown, finally surpassing Android’s market share in May 2020, and has held an approximate 50%+ share since. Connected Things progress and widespread adoption could not progress without developer access to iOS NFC.

iPhone 7 and iOS 11 were the first shift towards accessibility for developers and subsequent iOS NFC software improvements in iOS 13 provided developer support for NFC RFID and NFC tags via the Core NFC Framework. In 2019, Apple furthered the drive towards iPhone NFC accessibility with the integration of NFC tags and NFC-based features, allowing consumers to get comfortable with using their phones to interact with real-world things and experiences. Third parties are now able to use the native SDKs to design apps able to read the UID of an NFC chip, a feature that previous iterations had lacked.

Over the last few years, the ability for consumers to interact with touchless information transfers has become a necessity. During the COVID pandemic, NFC and QR code interactions have become more popular and expected by the general population. In addition to NFC tags, iPhone 13 can read QR codes and iPhone 14 will retain this ability. Everything from product offers and website links to app download links, consumers have more reasons than ever to use their iPhone to scan QR codes.

While iPhone 14 and iOS will have the same capabilities as iPhone 13 and iOS 15, they will also have the same limitations. There is still no native support for all basic NFC NDEF record types. For example, an iPhone right out of the box does not have a native action associated with reading an NFC tag encoded with a text NDEF record or contact NDEF record. A third-party app is required for many actions to take place. Not having native support for the common NDEF record types forces companies to have custom apps to use those record types. Any time a custom app is required, consumers become less willing to interact with tags, setting back NFC adoption with each interaction. Hopefully, Apple will add support for these capabilities in future iOS versions and GoToTags has been working with the various parties needed to advocate to make these improvements.

Another continued limitation of iPhone 14 is the inability to use NFC for payment applications beyond ApplePay. However, in April of 2022, the EU announced its intent to investigate what it feels is an unfair blocking of other payment systems on iPhones by Apple. They are stating that NFC and its secure elements access is a necessary component of digital wallets and payment systems and that Apple potentially does not have the right to block third-party service providers from the same NFC features used by ApplePay. The elimination of these roadblocks such as this would advance consumer awareness and usage of NFC, making NFC usage on iPhone and iOS more comfortable and increasing the everyday usage of NFC technology.