NFC and iOS/iPhone

Overwiev about the latest developments regarding iPhones and NFC:

At the developer conference WWDC 2017 Apple announced that iPhones will be NFC-enabled with the release of iOS 11. However, according to the official NFC API document by Apple the NFC functionalities will be limited. Only reading of NFC tags will be possible, while writing of NFC tags won't be supported as far as we know currently.

In the following, we summarized all important developments regarding NFC in iPhones beginning starting with the latest news going down to the beginning with the iPhone 6.


iOS13: iOS App Shortcuts in action with NFC Tags (2019)

Apple has extended its own iOS App shortcuts under iOS 13.1 and now also integrated the possibility to write NFC tags directly. Using the NFC Tags different shortcuts can be executed by simply scanning the NFC Tags. Here you need some iPhone Xs, Xr or iPhone 11, iPhone 11 Pro

Other iPhone models (iPhone 7 and higher) can use our NFC tags from the iOS shortcut starter kit. For this a NFC Reader App is required to read the NFC tags. Our free NFC21-Reader App can be installed directly from the Apple Store.

iOS12: Reading NFC-Tags without an app - but only for new and tags containing URLs (2018)

Reading NFC-Tags without an additional app was activated by apple for the 2018 iPhone product launches (Xs, Xs Max and Xr). However, only NFC-Tags containing a weblink (URL) are recognized. Furthermore, the function is not activated for older devices even though they are running iOS12 aswell. To read other tags besides URLs or for older devices you still need an extra app like our NFC21-Reader. Overall this is a step into the right direction as using NFC with apple hardware has become a little bit easier. The following video demonstrated the new NFC-capabilities using an iPhone Xs and compares it with the older generation.

Apple expands NFC functions under iOS11 (2017)

Shortly after the successful jailbreak, Apple announced the expansion of NFC functions with iOS11 on developer conference WWDC 2017. However, the NFC functions are still limited, as iPhones under iOS11 only support reading of NDEF-formatted NFC tags. This means, that encoding of NFC tags isn’t possible. Thus, the usage of NFC is limited to very simple use cases such as reading NFC tags with text, URLs or vCards and pairing of NFC devices with smartphones. Moreover, the expanded NFC functions are only supported by iPhone 7 and newer models. Thus, users of previous devices such as the iPhone 6 still can’t use NFC for other purposes than paying with Apple Pay.

Jailbreaker unlocks NFC on iPhone 6s (2017)

As mentioned earlier, Apple unlocked the NFC chip in iPhones only for being used with Apple Pay. Thus, iPhone users are still waiting to read and write NFC tags with their phones. Possibly the waiting will come to an end very soon, as famous Jailbreak developer Elias Limneos demonstrated in a YouTube video that his iPhone is able to identify NFC tags in reach. In his video he hold several NFC tags, NFC cards and NFC readers near his iPhone 6s and on the display appeared notifications when the NFC products entered and left the reach of the NFC chip in his iPhone. He managed to interact with NFC tags by jailbreaking his iPhone 6s operating under iOS10. Once further tests are finished, the jailbreaker promised to offer a tweak in the Cydia Store. Thus, at least users of jailbreaked iPhones might have a possibility to read and write NFC tags soon. Currently, many people are speculating if this jailbreak will influence Apple decision regarding the NFC functionality of iPhones.

iPhone 6 supports contactless payments with Apple Pay (2016)

Since 2014 iPhones provide at least partial support for the NFC technology. The iPhone 6 and all newer models contain a NFC chip with Secure Element, but to the present time NFC can only be used for contactless payments with Apple Pay. Currently, Apple Pay isn’t available in every country, thus the NFC Chip inside the iPhone is remains completely unused in several countries.

Technically the iPhone has all required hardware to be NFC-enabled, but the functions of the NFC chip are restricted by software. This means, that iPhones don’t support reading and writing NFC tags or pairing with other NFC-enabled devices such as NFC headsets. It remains to be seen, if Apple decides to unlock the NFC function in the future. Up to now Apple refuses to make this decision because the company worries about security and speed issues. However, it’s possible that Apple changes his mind in the future because other functionalities such as the fingerprint reader were introduced in a later iOS version as well.

Experiment - NFC-Tag Scanning with iPhone


Further information

NFC Smartphone
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