Companies Anticipate NFC Scale-Up With Apple’s iOS 13 Release

Apple's latest operating system will provide greater Near Field Communication functionality for developers; the firm is also promoting multiple products of its own using the technology, prompting NFC companies to prepare for market growth.
Published: June 21, 2019

As Apple is releasing its iOS 13 operating system for iPhones and iPads with Near Field Communication (NFC) functionality, companies in the NFC sector are seeing new opportunities. The consumer electronics and computer software company released its plans for NFC in iOS 13 at its World Wide Developers Conference (WWDC). The iPhone 7 and newer models came with NFC reading functionality, but they were limited to Apple Pay or other apps that had to be installed on the phone.

The features being released on the iOS 13 are already available on Android-based phones. At the conference, Apple reported that iOS 13 will enable users to write data to NFC tags from an iPhone for the first time. But the functionality will go considerably further than that, the firm indicated, as app developers and Apple create new apps and solutions. The company plans to release multiple new systems that will utilize the NFC functionality.

Apple’s iOS 13

“Any time a company with a market share and mindshare like Apple’s expands their NFC functionality, it is significant for other industry players and consumers,” says Koichi Tagawa, the chairman of the NFC Forum. Tagawa is also the general manager of global standards and industry relations at the C&I Center in Dai Nippon Printing.

Apple—which is a member of the NFC Forum, sits on its board of directors and co-chairs the NFC Forum’s IoT Special Interest Group—did not respond to a request for comment about this announcement. Previously, NFC solutions for transportation ticketing, mapping or smart-city deployments did not operate with Apple products unless an iOS app was offered and downloaded on the phone. The new iOS 13 products, however, will be able to read an NFC tag without the need for an app, as well as launch a shortcut with an NFC tag and accomplish tasks such as reading NFC tags on passports.

With the added functionality in iOS device, Tagawa explains, NFC solutions can be more widely used, and technology companies can thus be expected to create new NFC-enabled solutions. “New features and options for NFC technology inspire developers to innovate,” he states, “knowing that their target market is continually expanding with the large number of iPhones in the market.” Already, Tagawa notes, the proliferation of NFC technologies—in handsets, wearables and vehicles, for example—”signals that NFC is becoming a ‘now’ technology.” Apple’s announcement brings more NFC-based convenience to millions of iPhone users worldwide, he says, which could further accelerate the momentum behind NFC.

For developers and the NFC market as a whole, the significance of this announcement is twofold, says Craig Tadlock, GoToTags‘ CEO. It not only expands the capacity for NFC-based apps (since most phones will now work with it), but it also signals Apple’s plans to build more NFC functionality into its own apps and products. The new Apple Card, for instance, will include an NFC tag to provision it. The company also demonstrated NFC stickers for downloading music at WWDC. Additionally, Apple’s HomeKit home-intelligence system and GymKit fitness-tracking solution both support NFC, as will audio app HomePod. “Expect to see much more going forward,” Tadlock says.

Until recently, the awareness and adoption of NFC—which transmits at 13.56 MHz and complies with the ISO 14443 and 15693 standards—have been somewhat limited. That, in part, is due to the fact that access to NFC solutions were not available to iOS device users. That was a sticking point, Tadlock says, adding, “People didn’t know about it.” Now, he predicts, with Apple promoting its phone as a way to interact with physical things, awareness will grow quickly. “Once someone experiences this one or two times, they get it, and it eventually becomes intuitive.”

Koichi Tagawa

Growth may be faster in some vertical markets than in others. Tagawa predicts the most significant growth opportunities for NFC will be in the retail and payment sectors, as well as identity for access control, transport for rail or other transit ticketing, and automotive markets such as NFC-based entry. While the NFC technology use cases in each of these markets are particularly strong, he notes, the Internet of Things (IoT) is another potentially strong NFC growth area, “as there is a real need for NFC technology to connect, commission and control the predicted 36 billion IoT devices in use on the planet by next year.”

In the meantime, products like Apple Pay remain strong. Two billion NFC-enabled devices are already in use globally—one for every four people worldwide—and a good percentage of those are Apple products, Tagawa says. “Expanding NFC capabilities means consumers will be the big winners,” he states. “We’ll see more and more new, useful applications that will increase consumers’ interest and comfort with contactless experiences.” He adds, “iOS 13 will only help.”

The NFC Forum considers this announcement an opportunity to expand and focus its message around promoting global interoperability and ensuring a positive and consistent experience for NFC users. NFC technology providers are already beginning to prepare availability for products, such as tags, while app developers are designing NFC apps that may grow the market.

Tadlock expects to see the demand for NFC tags and solutions to significantly grow during the coming year. “We had already been doing one-million-plus tag projects, but now we have large customers talking to us about one-million-tags-per-month projects,” he says. “The NFC industry is going to need to scale up to handle this.” GoToTags had anticipated the coming growth and has been building encoding and software solutions to support these large enterprise customers.

Craig Tadlock

“I believe that NFC is in the right place, at the right time.” says Larry Hower, the CEO of AusNFC. With the new iOS release, he adds, NFC tapping and scanning should increase greatly. “The thing about tapping an NFC tag is that it is amazingly simple once you see it done,” he explains. “Then folks can tap away.” He credits QR code technology with teaching consumers to interact with things around them using their phones to capture local data. “But QR needs more effort—tinkering with a phone,” Hower notes, whereas NFC requires a simple tap.

“In light of the increased use of NFC and tapping, things look bright for NFC,” Hower states. The iOS 13 is available to developers now and will be commercially released this fall with new iPhones.