NFC and iOS/iPhone

Overview 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. Furthermore, with iOS13 writing to NFC-Tags was enabled.

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

iOS 14.3 - start app-clips with NFC

Released on december, 14th 2020 iOS 14.3 brought the feature of app clips. An app-clip enables to launch a small portion of an app without the need to install the whole application beforehand. Combined with an app-clip NFC-Tag launching, for instance, a review app becomes a matter of seconds. More details about app-clips and NFC in our dedicated article.

iOS 14 announcements: NFC reader in the control center

On June 22nd at the WWDC 2020, the new iPhone operating system iOS 14 was presented, which is expected to be released in autumn 2020, around the same time as the new iPhone 12. The new iOS is already available in a public beta version.

After Apple made it possible with iOS 13 for iPhone 7 and all successor models to write NFC tags by opening the NFC interface, Apple goes one step further with the new operating system iOS 14: Soon an NFC reader will be permanently implemented and even available in the control center.

This means that NFC tags can be read directly with the iPhone, even without an external NFC reader app. The NFC function will thus be integrated into the operating system in an accessible way. In order to read an NFC tag, the device must only be unlocked. In this manual we will explain how to use the new function and what restrictions there are.

NFC and App Clips

In the future, so-called app clips will allow iPhone users to access app functions more quickly without having to install the app first. So to speak as a fast shortcut to an external application. As application examples, Apple gives the rental and payment of a scooter, or the payment of parking fees.

The special thing about this is that you can call up and pay in these App Clips. The new integrated NFC function makes this possible in one step. The user holds the iPhone via an NFC sticker, after which the app (AppClip) opens without having to open a specific application or Safari. Afterwards, the action and especially the payment can be carried out directly using the NFC function (Apple Pay). The result is easier and faster access to external applications without having to install the complete third-party app and set up separate payment methods.

Apple CarKey

With the Apple CarKey function, it should be possible to unlock and lock supported car models using a digital key that is encrypted on the iPhone. So far, only BMW has announced support for this function. Such keys are to be transferable to up to five other people via iMessage. Restrictions, such as the engine power (km/h), can be imposed when passing on the keys.

Technical innovations

In addition to these application examples, the CarKey function and the integrated NFC reader function, Apple also optimizes the NFC function with iOS 14 with regard to some technical features. Thus, so-called Vicinity Tags are supported by the new ISO 15693 standard. Such tags extend the current reading range from 10 cm to up to one meter.

According to Apple the update also supports the common NFC protocols ISO 15693 (SLI-X), FeliCa, ISO 7816 (Type 2, NTAG...) and MIFARE (Ultralight, Plus, DESFire). Several blocks should therefore be able to be read and written faster.

iOS 14 compatibility

On all iPhones that currently support iOS 13, iOS 14 will also be available. This means that all iPhones including iPhone 6s and above will be iOS 14 compatible.  

iOS13: Writing of NFC-Tags enabled (2019)

Write NFC-Tags with your iPhone

The biggest changes regarding NFC in iOS was the addition of functions to write to NFC-Tags with your iPhone. Starting with iPhone 7 you are now able to write to NFC-Tags. However, an App is still necessary. Therefore we want to recommend our App NFC21 Tools, which makes writing to NFC-Tags with your iPhone as easy as possible. We differentiate different tag-types and explain in detail, which information you need to provide and how the tag may be used. NFC21 Tools is available for free in the App-Store.

iOS App Shortcuts in action with NFC Tags

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

Erstellt: 2017-02-16 / Aktualisiert: 2021-02-02 2017-02-16 2021-02-02