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.


Does the Apple iPhone 7 support NFC Tags?

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

Apple just had their annual September big event, this time announcing the iPhone 7, iPhone 7 Plus and Apple Watch Series 2. So how are they? Depends on where you’re coming from. If you were already an Apple fan, these products are great and represent Apple’s continual iterative push for innovative, useful and beautiful products. If you were already not an Apple fan, then you saw this as the 3rd year of an overhyped, lackluster product announcement with products lagging behind other devices from Google and Samsung. Then there is the issue of removing the headphone jack…


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

But does the new iPhone have the NFCs!? (inside joke) The short story is yes, it supports NFC. Yes Apple is expanding what NFC can do but no, it does not yet support reading and writing NFC tags. If you haven’t read our original post on this topic, I suggest you read it first. Here we are six months later and all of our claims still hold true. Now lets take a look ahead. Based on evidence we’re seeing, we expect the following progression to occur.

The big development for NFC is that Apple announced support for FeliCa in Apple Pay. You’ve never heard of FeliCa? You have likely never been to Japan. FeliCa is the dominant mobile payment system in Japan where it is used in most people’s daily routine; transportation, stores, restaurants, web… Think of it as an expanded version of London’s Oyster card, but where you can pay for more things than just public transport. The USA lacks a true corollary; but we’re really just talking about a more efficient way to pay for goods and services. The technical implementation of FeliCa is totally different than “traditional” Apple Pay and EMV; FeliCa stores the value on the card itself vs in the cloud. “I don’t live in Japan, so why is this a big thing?” Because it’s a sign that Apple is expanding what NFC can do in the iPhone. Call me optimistic, but I am looking at it like this; there are only three sets of numbers; 0, 1 and many. Two years ago Apple did not support NFC at all (0), previously Apple supported NFC via Apple Pay (1) and now Apple is adding support for FeliCa (many). It’s not as a big of a leap for Apple to start adding additional uses for NFC within the iPhone; things like NFC tag reading and writing. As we said back in March, the more that consumers learn to trust that they can use their mobile device as a magic wand to interact with the world, the more you will see new deployments of this technology. Companies like Apple will add support to meet that demand.

So how is Apple Pay doing? Great, but a bit slower than they had hoped. Since our original post Apple has expanded Apple Pay throughout Europe, Hong Kong and beyond with a total of 9 major markets. Apple Pay is available at 11+ million locations worldwide and growth is doubling. This fall they are expanding to New Zealand, Russia and more. Apple Pay’s success and continued expansion is pretty amazing considering the number of geographic, cultural and political hurdles to overcome. Remember it’s hard to get people to change their daily behaviors and to trust new ways, especially when it comes to money. Importantly, there still has not been a single security issue with Apple Pay or the NFC hardware in the iPhone. This is all good.

When will Apple support NFC tags though? When they feel the time is right; and by right I mean when they feel that Apple pay has succeeded, consumer’s trust has been earned in contactless interactions and there is enough external pressure. You can’t rush Apple. A lesson learned this summer when a group of Australian banks tried to force Apple to open up access to the NFC controller so they could build their own competitive mobile payment system. Apple quickly shot this down with the argument that it would “diminish security” and that Apple is protecting consumers. This of course is not entirely true, but it takes too many words to understand why not so it’s a beautiful argument. In reality, Apple is using this to block competitors to Apple Pay because there are billions of dollars in profit to be made.

Hope is not lost for the iPhone reading and writing NFC tags though. Without getting too technical, there are multiple components that comprise the NFC system in the iPhone. Part of this is the NFC controller (radio) and part of this is the secure element (bank vault).  For a mobile payment systems to work it needs access to both the NFC controller and the secure element as it needs to securely store data for the financial transaction processing. Functionality such as NFC tag reading and writing does not need access to the secure element, but only access to the NFC controller. This difference is key. Apple will never open up access to the secure element as it would allow for competitors to build other mobile payment systems; Apple will always use the argument of “diminish security” to prevent this. However they can easily open up access to the NFC controller to allow for non-payment use cases. This is what we expect to see happen.

Does this even matter? Depends on how close to Cupertino you live. In the USA where the cult of Apple is stronger, the lack of NFC tag support in the iPhone is a bigger deal. Outside of the USA this isn’t as true. GoToTags has recently expanded to Europe and sees the NFC market as strong and growing. In areas like South America the iPhone is almost irrelevant, with Android dominating the market. GoToTags works everyday with companies worldwide to develop their product strategy for NFC, for both internal and consumer uses of NFC. NFC tags can be found everywhere and are going into everything; without most people even realizing it. NFC is being used for product information in retail, for anti-counterfeiting of products, physical security, assets tracking, gaming and out-of-home marketing; oh.. and mobile payment too. When NFC tags are combined with a management and analytics system such as the GoToTags Platform and other IoT tag technologies, it allows for even more functionality and value to be derived.

Someday Apple will have a big event and tell the world about the other uses for NFC. When that happens the Apple fans will see it as continual innovation at the “right time”, and the non Apple fans will see it as the iPhone finally catching up. Either way, it’s already happening now. The sooner you start planning for it, the more ready you will be for it. We can help.

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

Cult of Mac

The Verge


International Business Times

NFC World


Venture Beat