This is the third post in our series on Apple iPhone support for NFC tags. If you haven’t read the previous posts yet, head over here and here so you’re up to speed.
It’s spring again, which means the rumor mill for the upcoming new iPhone 8 and iOS 9 is in full swing. This year is different though as it’s the 10th anniversary of the iPhone, so consumers are expecting something amazing. This hope is reinforced by the perceived lackluster iPhones of recent years, although the market doesn’t seem to share that sentiment. Consumers harken for the days of Steve Jobs dazzling them with each new iPhone release but lately it seems that the Apple Watch and other recent Apple products can’t quite match up to consumers’ expectations anymore. If the rumors are true, it does look like this year’s iPhone 8 will be something special. But will the new iPhone support NFC tags and other non-payment use cases?
As we have covered in the previous articles, the iPhone 7 and Apple Watch do have NFC, but it’s only being used to support Apple Pay and VAS (Value Added Services) aka Passbook. Apple has yet to release an iOS NFC SDK to allow for app developers to build non-payment related functions. Several banks have made a big deal about this as it limits competition but Apple has pretty much won this battle with the “security” argument I’ve covered previously. So, given the story so far, what does the future hold? Will Apple ever support NFC tags?
To get a better understanding of the issue, we should realize that we’re probably asking the wrong question. Instead of “will”, the question should be, “Why should Apple support NFC tags?”. Apple has become the company it is today because it is very purposeful about what it does. Every device, feature, icon, color, sound and text is all there for a specific reason, and has likely also been prototyped and A/B tested over several iterations. This is what has given devices like the iPhone the prestige market position it has today. Apple’s competitors, in particular Google, apply more of an iterative, engineering based philosophy and are happy to put products out in the market to see how they perform and then refine them in future versions. You can see this reflected in how both companies have approached NFC.
Apple will support reading NFC tags in the iPhone when there is a reason to. So why haven’t they already? GoToTags has been working with NFC for 6 years, and we have watched the market develop over time. It’s quite amazing how little press NFC gets, given how it is transforming how we interact with items in the physical world. We work every day with companies large and small that are waking up to NFC and how it is changing their business. After 20,000+ orders of NFC tags, software and hardware and thousands of app users, the future has arrived early for some but it doesn’t seem like the press and bloggers have caught up yet. This silent groundswell adoption of NFC has been occurring in earnest over the last 18 months, yet it goes mainly unnoticed, including for the most part by Apple. This is partially due to the preliminary stages of many these projects, and the increasing importance of them over time. GoToTags has signed more NDAs than we can count for this reason.
NFC cannot stay hidden for much longer. GoToTags and others have been working for years with companies on prototype projects, that are now moving into full deployment. In these projects, NFC is changing the ways that products work and in some cases, redefining what companies are. The list of industries that NFC is changing is growing quickly and includes security, gaming, transportation, event ticketing, biotech, asset tracking, product authentication and product marketing. In these projects, NFC is either being embedded into a physical item (ticket, toy, product…) and/or NFC is the method in which digital items are transferred between devices.
These aren’t small projects either; GoToTags has many customers whose projects have deployed 100k+ NFC tags and a handful that have deployed 1M+. These projects are also becoming more consumer focused. Recently Nintendo released amiibo, which has NFC enabled physical characters, and we sold out of our stock of the NTAG215 chip type within hours (don’t worry, more on the way). All of this in a market where nobody knows that NFC is even happening.
What will change Apple’s mind? In many of these projects, because the iPhone does not support NFC tags, the business is either forced to choose Android as their device platform, or live in a world where their iPhone app is crippled compared to its Android counterpart. The NFC functionality is too important for these products. Thus, the iPhone loses its prestige and looks inferior to its Android competitors. That is a big deal and as soon as Apple believes this it will reassess its stance on NFC. Remember that originally Steve Jobs didn’t want to allow apps on the iPhone, yet they caved in due to market pressure from companies that wanted to offer products to consumers via mobile devices. Now the App Store is a massive revenue generator for Apple and an integral part of the mobile experience. NFC is the next step in the technology arms race. Do you think Apple is going to sit back and ignore Nintendo and others’ success?
Once the technological genie has been released it cannot be put back in the bottle. NFC is happening right now in a big way and thousands of companies are figuring out what it means to them. Apple is becoming more aware of this and looking at NFC use cases beyond payment. GoToTags is involved in several ways. We are working on a new series of blog posts that are more in-depth use cases for NFC. More importantly though, we are continuing to work with companies to help them think through all of this to make sure they don’t misstep or miss out. If you have read this far, you might want to just contact us to see how we can help you too.