Near Field Communication (NFC) is based on RFID technology that works in the HF band (13.56 MHz) and was specially developed for applications such as contactless payment that require a higher level of security and the exchange of larger amounts of data. While iPhone users were initially only able to use NFC to pay via Apple Pay, users and app developers have had extensive NFC functionality since iOS 13 (from iPhone 7).
This includes reading and writing NFC tags (NDEF standard), and Apple also allows direct access to the currently most important NFC protocols ISO 15693 (SLI-X), FeliCa, ISO 7816 (type 2, NTAG …) and Mifare (Ultralight, Plus, DESFire). App developers have been able to access the NFC chip UID since autumn 2019 and all other special NFC chip functions (mirroring, counter, authentication …) are also available.
With iOS 14, Apple is now going one step further and expanding support for ISO 15693, the standard for so-called Vicinity Tags. The standard specifies that tags work at 13.56 MHz and have a maximum reading distance of 1 meter. Since ISO 15693 allows a greater reading range than 10 cm, it does not technically adhere to the classic NFC specifications. A very popular application for such tags is the registration of rental books and media.
Apple also adds various extensions in CoreNFC with iOS 14. For example, a new generic send command was implemented, which should allow greater dynamics when accessing / sending data packets (e.g. improved block operations, support for RAW packets). Operations related to security frameworks were also considered. IOS 14 supports fast multi-block reading, extended multi-block writing / reading, authentication, key updates and much more.
However, some NFC modes are still not supported, including host card emulation (HCE) used for Google Pay. This is not too surprising since apps could use it to create payment services that compete with Apple Pay.
With iOS 14, an NFC reader is now also available in the control center for all compatible devices (iPhone 7, 8, X, SE -2Gen, 11). This eliminates the need to download an NFC reader from the App Store. Nevertheless, these apps will surely continue to be installed – similar to how there are still users today who download a flashlight app from the App Store.
It gets interesting when you combine the new App Clips Framework in iOS 14 with Core NFC: The user simply scans the NFC tag with the NFC reader active in the background, the app clip required for a simple task is loaded and reported if necessary the user then clicks “Sign in with Apple” and pays using Apple Pay.
The whole thing works completely smoothly without having to open a special application or Safari. The only requirements are that the iPhone is unlocked and there is a network connection – but you will need this at the latest if you want to pay using Apple Pay. With such a combination, Apple could score particularly well in countries where competing payment systems rely on QR codes: There, the user must first manually call up the associated application to scan the code.