Apple Unshackles the iPhone’s NFC Reader

The new XS, XS Max and XR models support the reading of Near Field Communication tags without users having to first open an application.
Published: September 17, 2018

Last week, Apple held its annual event at which it unveils the latest versions of its iPhone, along with upgrades to the iOS operating system. It didn’t receive much attention in the mainstream and technology press (Apple executives didn’t even mention it on stage), but there was some significant news that relates to the radio frequency identification industry: Apple has finally opened up access to the Near Field Communication (NFC) reader in its iPhone.

The new iPhone XS, XS Max and XR models support the reading of NFC tags without users having to first open an application. Originally, the NFC reader in the iPhone 7 could only be used with Apple Pay, but then the firm made the NFC reader available to certain applications. That functionality still exists, but the NFC reader in the new models can read a tag and, for example, launch a browser with a URL embedded in the tag.

The new models can also read tags when the phones are locked. If a user unlocks his or her phone, an app will launch, if appropriate, or the phone will display the tag’s contents. If that individual reads an NFC tag at a museum, for example, this might launch a museum app, if one were loaded on the phone, or display the contents of the tag. This means that companies can now use NFC tags more easily.

Let’s say a brand owner were to create a new product. The company could place posters in public areas to promote that product and embed a tag in each poster, containing a link to a video or information on the Web. This capability, of course, has been around with Android phones for years. But the fact that Apple has now introduced it on its newest phones (older models will not have it) means all smartphone users will now have the ability to read NFC tags. This can only enhance the adoption of NFC for consumer marketing applications.

Mark Roberti is the founder and editor of RFID Journal.