Apple WWDC19

It doesn't feel like two years since the Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) in June 2017, when Apple announced that it would be relaxing restrictions on Near Field Communication (NFC). The changes applied to the iOS 11 operating system, which powered the iPhone 8 and iPhone X at the time. Two years down the line, and keynote speeches at 2019's event have confirmed what we suspected - that Apple has recognised the continued uptake of NFC across the planet, and will now open up its devices to the technology even further.'

What's new?

After expanding its devices' NFC capability from solely the Apple Pay app, to being able to read NFC Tags without needing any additional tools, the recent trade event in San Jose, California, USA, revealed that iOS 13 will be even more NFC-friendly. Supporting the iPhone 7 and all newer models, iOS 13 will enable native Tag reading, as well as being able to write NDEF messages. However, we must stress (as of July 2019) this more open functionality currently only applies to the iPhone XS & XR and newer models until a full update is released across all of the NFC enabled iPhones. While writing NFC Tags is not typically a consumer activity, this capability is likely to be of interest to many of those using NFC technology in the B2B sphere. It is thought that the NFCNDEFTag protocol will be used for supporting this writer, and will be made possible via a third party app.

What else?

It is also understood that iOS 13 will offer the possibility of locking NFC Tags - those encoded by an NDEF message - permanently. That's in addition to NFC issue command access for the following protocols; FeliCa, Mifare, ISO 7816, ISO 15693. Users of newer iPhone devices will find that special features for NFC chips will be included, from mirroring to counters.

Apple Pay gets simpler

Building on the first Apple feature to accommodate NFC - Apple Pay - there have also been some exciting developments regarding enhancements to Apply Pay which will make the Contactless payment method even simpler for consumers. It was actually at the TRANSACT Conference - held in Las Vegas, Nevada, USA in May - that we first heard some details about NFC Tag stickers which can be affixed to a phone or embedded in a card form. This will make tapping to purchase items even easier for Apple Pay members, meaning that they will not even have to download an app to enjoy the convenience of Contactless payments.

Passport possibilities

Another standout feature of iOS 13's core NFC framework will be the support for reading ID documents, including passports. That's thanks to the acceptance of an app developed by developer Innovalor, which is currently used by the Home Office and a number of banks. ReadID will allow ID documents such as passports to be verified for their authenticity. That means operators who had previously needed an Android device to perform ID checking using the app will now be able to use newer iPhone models to perform the same task.

Innovalor's CEO, Maarten Wegdam, announced the go ahead of the app on Apple. Speaking to the NFC World platform he said: “I can confirm it works. We tested with UK passports, and no problems. It is now possible to read the RFID chips that are in e-passports and identity cards using iPhones.”

From a consumer's perspective, the RealID app being accepted on iPhone will now make it possible for them to self authenticate documents and provide proof of ID when registering or certain services. This could include signing up for a new bank account, for example.

Positive steps

While Apple might not have thrown its door open to NFC in the same way that Android has done, the iOS 13 development is another confirmation that Apple is gradually relaxing its stance. How long will it be before iPhones offer the same NFC capability as Androids?