Apple will make NFC much more useful in iPhones running iOS 13, and these enhancements will impact the retail, medical, government and security industries.
What is Apple changing?
Apple already uses NFC to support Apple Pay and the Apple Pay Express Transit system which is rolling out at this time.
While it has incrementally extended the tasks NFC supports over the years, the company has limited its NFC support to the NDEF standard until now, but extends this with support for new standards in its Core NFC Framework in iOS 13.
These include Mifare, FeliCa, ISO 7816 (e.g. for passports, transit and contactless smart cards), and ISO 15693. It is not known if Apple will support the NFC Forum’s latest TNEP standard.
Support for these standards is significant. It means that rather than simply being able to read NFC tags, developers will be given the tools they need in order to create apps that can also write to and local blank tags.
These changes also mean iPhones will offer better support for the transit, passport and access cards/systems that are already widely used worldwide.
Apple says it will not allow iPhones to read payment card “for the time being”. You also need to be using an iPhone 7 or later.
What does this mean?
In brief this means NFC on iPhones will work in more situations than it does now.
Apple at WWDC demonstrated this in an on-stage presentation in which it created an NFC-based system for product description, purchase and promotion for an imaginary entity called the Great Fish Company.
The demo showed how to use tags across the retail journey, including provision of product information, payment and coupon distribution.
Apple’s decision also makes iPhones compatible with government-class ID systems. Japan intends the addition of NFC tag reading support for its national ID system later this year, and the UK government’s ReadID system will also work with iPhones as a result of Apple’s improved NFC support.
This should mean iPhone users will be able to provide official proof of identity when signing up for services such as bank accounts without physically visiting the provider or sharing a passport scan.
NFC stickers are also supported
Apple also confirmed support for NFC stickers. These make it possible for retailers to accept payments without use of a terminal or app.
In theory, at least, it becomes possible for any retailer to set up a cash-free payment system that requires nothing more than an NFC sticker.
Why would you queue at Ikea when you can simply walk in, swipe the sticker, and walk out with your latest IQ-testing DIY furniture box?
How will businesses use this?
Speaking at the Transact conference just prior WWDC 2019, Apple’s VP Internet Services, Jennifer Bailey revealed that several U.S. retailers are working on pilot schemes to use Apple’s new NFC tag reading features.
She also discussed some of the different ways this will be used, including wireless card payments at parking meters, scooter hire payments and innovative new retail technologies. Bird, PayByPhone and Bonobos are all testing this.
Apple has also said these newly-adopted NFC tagging capabilities will make it possible for retailers to create instant sign-up to their loyalty programs.
Apple’s examples are retail focused
Apple offered a couple of examples of the tech in use at WWDC.
In one example, a consumer could swipe their iPhone above an NFC tag to get the product description, while another example saw a shopper given a coupon once an item was paid for.
The company’s Core NFC developer pages also cite the example of apps giving users information about products they find in a store or exhibits they visit in a museum.
One more thing: Apple has also indicated that it will be possible to initiate a Siri Shortcut by scanning an NFC tag.
Enterprises and developers interested to learn more pertaining to Apple’s improved NFC support should watch Apple’s Core NFC Enhancements presentation from WWDC 2019.