Use NFC Tags with iPhone Shortcuts App

If you have updated your iPhone to run iOS 13, you may have noticed that the Shortcuts app is now pre-installed. With newfound NFC functionality, Shortcuts has garnered a lot of recent attention. In short, the app lets you run automated actions on your iPhone with pre-defined triggers; one such trigger could be tapping your phone to an NFC tag. Although seemingly just like any other NFC tag interaction, NFC-driven Shortcuts expose a fundamental difference in how NFC interactions occur and where the data informing the actions is actually stored. As we uncover these implications, we’ll identify why Shortcuts is a great tool for personal use but the wrong tool for Connected Things.

Sharing a common thread with longstanding Android applications like Samsung TecTiles and Trigger, Apple purchased the app previously known as Workflow back in 2017 before rebranding it as Shortcuts. Like the Android apps, Shortcuts encompasses two things: triggers and actions. A trigger initiates a workflow that then executes one or more actions. A trigger can be based on user behaviors, voice commands, the weather, geo-locations, time of day, wireless connectivity, and now most recently, NFC tags.

A few common examples of NFC triggered shortcuts are:

  • Tapping an NFC tag in your car to launch your commute in Google Maps
  • Tapping an NFC tag to simultaneously connect to your Bluetooth speaker and play your favorite playlist
  • Tapping an NFC tag to turn off smart lights and turn down your smart thermostat as you leave the house

While these NFC triggered shortcuts are effective for the user who set them up, the value is not translated to other users. Why? Because with Shortcuts no data is actually written to the NFC tag. Instead, when the shortcut is created the app opts to read the NFC tag’s UID, that UID is then correlated to the action and stored within the iPhone’s local memory. When that iPhone encounters an NFC tag in the future, it reads the tag’s UID to see if it is associated with a trigger in Shortcuts; if yes, it performs the action, if no, the Shortcuts app ignores the tag.

As a consequence of storing the action data locally on the iPhone that was used to set it up, NFC Shortcuts cannot be used by other devices. This is fundamentally different than writing data to the tag itself.

To get the most value out of Connected Things like NFC tags, the actionable data should be stored on the tags themselves or within the cloud; doing so allows other users to interact with the tags and leverage a common experience. With cloud-based solutions like the GoToTags Cloud, you can effectively deploy a Connected Things project and gain the ability to remotely update the tag’s triggered action. What’s more, you could then collect tag-level analytics to better understand who is interacting with your tags, how they are interacting with them, and where/when they are being interacted with. Although not the right tool for Connected Things, Shortcuts’ new NFC functionality is a great way for users to learn about NFC while increasing the overall awareness and adoption of the technology.