UPDATE 12th September 2018 :
According to a report by The Information, Apple will open up access to the iPhone NFC chip with the release of iOS 12. Quoting an a ‘person familiar with the matter’, they are reporting that the latest version of iOS will allow more comprehensive access to the NFC chip onboard the iPhone.
The article quotes a use case where the phone might be able to be used to unlock a hotel room door.
Clearly, this report is a little vague but let’s consider what this might mean.
More than NDEF
With the previous iOS release, Apple took NFC beyond just payments by allowing the iPhone to scan NFC tags. However, there were a number of restrictions. Firstly, an App was required. There was no native NFC tag scanning. Secondly, the App needed to be open and thirdly, the App only had access to the NDEF data space on the chip. In simple terms that means that the App could only read the main memory space on the chip and not access more advanced features such as counters or security settings. Additionally, Apps could not write to the tags, they could only read.
It would seem likely then that if this rumour is true, that Apple is going to allow greater control over the communication between the iPhone and the tag. Possibly allowing the commands required to access memory outside the normal data space. Additionally, it may also allow the iPhone to write to the tags.
There’s almost certainly no hardware reason why these features were not allowed before so a simple software change is quite possible.
Background App access
The second possibility here is that Apple will allow a scan of an NFC tag (either active or passive) to ‘wake’ the iPhone and automatically launch the appropriate App. This is vital in terms of improving usability and in the instance of hotel doors, would clearly allow quicker and more user friendly access.
App free native support
In the opinion of NFC.Today, either of these two changes would be useful and would indicate a move in the right direction. However, realistically, the real change will come when NFC tag scanning is native within the device. In this case, a number of basic actions – such as opening a web page – can happen out of the box without downloading an App.
Obviously, the hotel room key is only an example. What Apple is actually doing here is allowing the phone to be used as a pass which will ultimately lead to ticketing, home security and an wide range of other applications. All of these will increase awareness of NFC and the flexibility and strength of the technology.
As NFC.Today have mentioned many times, the power of NFC tags for authentication, is a real game changer. Any progress Apple make to allowing App developers to do more is welcome, but NFC.Today are still waiting on the real trump card – app free, native NFC tag scanning.
It remains to be seen if Apple will take that step.