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Apple iOS 11 Supports Reading NFC Tags for iPhone 7 and iPhone 8 with Core NFC API

UPDATE Sept 12th, 2017: Read the new post Finally Read NFC Tags with an iPhone App on iOS 11

Apple has just announced at WWDC 2017 that iOS 11 will have support for reading NFC tags and NDEF messages. This means that all iPhone 7 and newer will be able to read NFC tags just like Android. While the iOS NFC API docs (Core NFC) are live on the Apple developer site, they appear to be at an early stage and there are still some questions. We’ll cover these questions and answers as they come in. For context, you should read up on other previous posts about Apple and NFC over the past couple years. If you have any questions, please either contact us or via Twitter @gototags.

Download the GoToTags iPhone App to read NFC tags and scan barcodes!

Is this for real?

Yes, it’s for real. It’s the moment the NFC industry has been waiting for.

What are the implications of this?

Huge, a fundamental change in how we interact with physical items and their digital counterparts. NFC is now a horizontal technology like the camera, WiFi and Bluetooth. Previously NFC had success but only in vertical markets such as asset tracking, security, gaming and closed event systems. Now going forward, most people will have an NFC reader available in their pocket to interact with NFC tags. Think about how the camera changed things…

What new use cases will be supported?

You will see a significant increase in consumer focused uses cases. This includes out-of-home marketing, smart product labels and packaging, interactive event experiences, rich gaming, product authentication and information and so many before. This is where NFC breaks away from its RFID roots. UHF RFID and NFC before the iPhone supported NFC tags was relegated to closed loop deployments in which the device was controlled via an entity “use this phone to do your job”. Now application developers and services providers can start to count on the consumer already having a device (phone) which can read NFC tags; in the same way they expect the phone to have a camera/GPS/WiFi. What you will see is things in the physical world now have NFC tags in them to link to its digital counterpart. We call this the Connected Things segment of the Internet of Things (IoT).

Where is the NFC Core developer documentation?

It’s here.

What models of the iPhone will be able to read NFC tags?

The iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus, as well as the upcoming iPhone 8 will be able to read NFC tags. Technically the iPhone 6+ has an NFC controller in it to support Apple Pay and will receive iOS 11. However they will not support NFC tag reading at this time. The iPhone 7 did change some of the NFC hardware, so it’s possible that Apple thought this upgraded hardware a requirement for the best NFC tag reading experience.

How many iPhones will now be able to read NFC tags?

By the end of 2017, I’d guess 250M+. Many consumers have been waiting for the upcoming iPhone 8 to upgrade. Think about this; it’s unprecedented in technology. Never before has a market increased by so much is such a little time. This is because Apple has been selling this hardware capability for over a year now, and it’s just a software update to enable.

When will this be available?

The iOS 11 beta is available for download now. The public release will be available shortly after the September 12th 2017 event, likely along with the iPhone 8.

What NFC functions are available?

Only reading NFC tags is supported in iOS 11, not writing NFC tags or card emulation.

Why just support reading NFC tags and not writing?

In our experience, regular consumers just don’t encode NFC tags. Only geeks (like us) and a few verticals support it. In 99% of projects we have worked on (millions of NFC tags), the tags are pre-encoded before delivery to the consumer. The implication of this is that NFC tags must be NDEF encoded in order to be read by an iPhone. This is fine; the GoToTags Store offers an NFC tag encoding service and NFC Encoder software and hardware for those that want to encode NFC tags themselves.

Is an app required or is there native support for handling of specific NDEF records?

An app is required to read NFC tags on the iPhone. This is different than Android which has native functionality in the operating system that when it encounters certain types NDEF records, it will perform their natural action on the phone. For example, a website record will open the url in the browser. This is likely something Apple will change in the future to improve the user experience. For now, you will need to use the GoToTags iPhone App.

Does it support NDEF?

Yes, but not completely. There is base level support for NDEF messages and records, but no typed classes for NDEF record (uri, text, contact, mime…). It’s easy to write those record subclasses so this isn’t concerning. GoToTags has a free iPhone app, and if there are any missing gaps in the SDK we will fill those in. We already have a complete NFC/NDEF SDK for .NET Windows so it’s easy for us.

Which NFC chip types are supported?

NFC types 1 – 5 are supported; which is all of them. This includes Mifare Ultralight, the NXP NTAG series and the longer range SLI series. If you aren’t sure which to use for your project, contact us and we can help.

Is it possible to read the NFC chip’s UID?

No, iOS 11 will not be able to read the NFC chip’s UID. This has some implications as the UID is used for functionality such as product authentication, anti-cloning and counterfeiting. Several projects did not take our advice and have just used the UID; time to rethink that. As a simple solution, our Encoder software can encode the UID in an NDEF record, although there really are better encoding strategies. See our help site for more details.

Why did Apple release an NFC API now?

It’s about time! Android has had an NFC SDK since 2010 and Apple Pay is successful. See our other posts about Apple and NFC. In general I think Apple finally saw NFC for what it is, a base-level technology that is a required hardware component in a modern smartphone in 2017. Everyone always asked “How will Apple make money off NFC?”. Wrong question, it’s akin to asking “How will Apple make money from the camera?”. Plus there are the ~2% transaction fees from Apple Pay.

How does this affect ApplePay?

It will not affect Apple Pay at all. While NFC is used as the mode of communication for Apple Pay, VAS (Passbook) and now reading NFC tags; the secure element used for ApplePay and VAS is not used when reading and writing NFC tags.

Will the Apple Watch also support reading NFC tags?

Yes, the Apple Watch will also be able to read NDEF records from NFC tags. We expected it to as it would make for an interesting user experience. Apple has already been driving their customers to use NFC on the Apple Watch for payments via Apple Pay, so this is a natural extension to that.

Will macOS support NFC?

There was no mention of this. macOS does support PC/SC so it is possible to build an NFC SDK and app, but you would be starting from a very low level.

How many calls/emails/texts did I have about this on the day it was announced?

Over 50, from partners, customers, friends, family, coworkers, investors, suppliers, competitors and press; along with record website traffic.

What’s next?

Game on. If you don’t already have an NFC strategy, now is the time to get your team together and figure out what NFC means to you. We can help you. We have worked on over 20,000 projects; some being very small and others are with Fortune 100 customers that we’ve been working on for 2+ years. Contact us and we’ll respond quickly.

 

Will Apple support NFC tags in iOS 10 for the iPhone 7?

UPDATE Sept 12th, 2017: Read the new post Finally Read NFC Tags with an iPhone App on iOS 11

It’s spring again and the Apple NFC rumor mill is heating up. In the fall of 2014 Apple added NFC hardware to the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus to support the Apple Pay mobile payment system. But that was the only thing the iPhone could do with NFC. Since Apple didn’t open up SDK access to the NFC controller for other developers, the NFC hardware inside the phone was severely limited to the types of applications it could be used for. Now its 2016 and Apple is expected to release new iPhone models along with an updated iOS. Will we will finally see support for additional NFC functions on Apple products?

 

Download the GoToTags iPhone App to read NFC tags and scan barcodes!

If you’re savvy with NFC, you know NFC is used for far more than just payments; including marketing, security, asset tracking, events, gaming… the list is long. NFC is one of several tag technologies that allow things in the physical world to be connected with their online counterparts. Other tag technologies include printed barcodes and QR codes, Bluetooth based tags such as Apple’s iBeacon and BLE, UHF RFID and a handful of other lesser known technologies. NFC plays a unique role within this family of technology; it’s low cost compared to most other technologies, is uniquely identifiable, is difficult to be cloned and its very short range captures the consumer’s intention. NFC tags can be deployed on physical items for non-payment uses forming an “Internet of Things”. Mobile payments is just one, very lucrative usage of NFC.

So why hasn’t Apple opened up support for these other uses of NFC? Security and trust. Mobile payments are a big deal. They represent a fundamental change in the way that money flows through the system, from the consumer all the way through the banks and companies. Several large industries are built up to enable this and collect a toll as the money moves. By changing and controlling the existing transaction flow, Apple, and other mobile payment providers hope to route money through their systems and subsequently be the ones to collect the toll. Apple likely negotiated reduced rates from banks on the guarantees of increased security, lower fraud rates and high consumer usage.

There is a lot of on the line for Apple Pay to succeed. Apple knows that to change consumer behavior on this level they must gain and keep the consumer’s trust. A single public security breach would put the entire project in jeopardy. So like the fingerprint scanner before it, Apple is likely limiting access to the NFC controller for an initial period of time. The security industry calls this “reducing the surface area”. This allows the consumers time to become comfortable with NFC and mobile payments and allows Apple time to work out any security issues that come up. From Apple’s perspective the risk of a public security issue in Apple Pay outweighs the benefits of using NFC for other applications.

Apple Pay has been in the market for almost two years without a single public security issue being disclosed. Nice work! Now Apple might be looking towards the future for what else it can do with NFC. Rumors are popping up that Apple could open up the NFC controller to other developers to use.

Will they open it up to everyone, or just other payment companies? Or will they continue to keep NFC closed to increase the usage and momentum of Apple Pay over their competitors’ Android Pay, Samsung Wallet… We don’t know yet. What is clear is that NFC is happening in other verticals besides payments and Apple isn’t clueless about that; they just have other priorities on their mind for the moment. In the meantime we recommend that companies get started now with NFC trials so they understand how to leverage NFC in their business such that they are ready when it does open up. 

What do you think? Tell us @gototags

Reading NFC Tags with iPhone 6 and iOS 8

Apple announced support for NFC in the iPhone 6 today to support Apple Pay. However they didnt say anything about if the iPhone 6 has the ability to read and write NFC tags. Several articles online sourced from our StackOverflow answer about the iPhone 6’s ability to use NFC tags.

From digging into the iOS 8 docs that are available as of Sept 9th 3:30pm there is no mention of developer access to the NFC controller to perform any NFC operations; that includes reading tags, writing tags, pairing, payments, tag emulation… Given its an NXP controller the hardware has the capability to perform these features. They did mention a 3rd party app for the watch that allowed a hotel guest to open their room door with NFC. This is a classic use case for NFC and gives some indication that the NFC controller will be open to developers at some point. Remember, the watch is not supposed to be released until Q1 2015. So for now I’d say it’s closed but will be open soon. Given the ‘newness’ of contactless payments for the general US consumer and the recent security breaches its not surprising Apple wants to keep this closed for a while.

-Craig Tadlock

PC Advisor

http://www.pcadvisor.co.uk/news/apple/3572112/iphone-6-nfc-chip-is-restricted-applepay/

Cult of Mac

http://www.cultofmac.com/296093/apple-confirms-iphone-6-nfc-apple-pay/

The Verge

http://www.theverge.com/2014/9/16/6204999/iphone-6-nfc-chip-locked-to-apple-pay

Geek

http://www.geek.com/apple/apple-only-allows-the-iphone-6-nfc-chip-to-work-with-apple-pay-1604517/

International Business Times

http://www.ibtimes.co.uk/iphone-6-nfc-limited-apple-pay-1465673

NFC World

http://www.nfcworld.com/2014/09/10/331448/apple-nfc-no-tags-or-pairing/

cnet

http://www.cnet.com/news/apple-locks-down-iphone-6-nfc-to-apple-pay/

Venture Beat

http://venturebeat.com/2014/09/16/apple-makes-nfc-a-one-trick-pony-in-iphone-6-watch/

Engadget

http://www.engadget.com/2014/09/16/nfc-on-iphone-6-limited-to-apple-pay/