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How To Use NFC On iPhone

The iPhone has been equipped with a NFC chip for some time now. All newer iPhone models since the iPhone 6 feature the Near Field Communication technology, allowing e.g. cashless and contactless payments via Apple Pay. Nevertheless, very few users know how this short-range radio standard works and how to use it. We show you what you need to know about NFC and how to use it on your iPhone.

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What is NFC?

NFC is one of those terms that Apple brings up with every new iPhone. Yet, many users still have no clue what it means and how to use it. Nevertheless, the functionality can be explained quickly: NFC is a radio technology that enables data to be transmitted between devices over a short distance – a maximum of 1,6 in – and is therefore similar to the well-known Bluetooth technology. However, with NFC, only small amounts of data written on electronic tags (so called NFC tags) that are attached to physical objects can be transferred to the smartphone. Since the successful exchange of data requires the immediate proximity of transmitter and receiver, NFC is particularly secure because it’s more difficult to spy out the device.

Which iPhones are NFC-enabled?

Although the first NFC-enabled smartphones were released in 2008, Apple only started to equip all newer iPhone models with an NFC module since the iPhone 6. Accordingly, the following iPhone models feature an NFC chip: iPhone 6, iPhone 6 Plus, iPhone 6s, iPhone 6s Plus, iPhone SE, iPhone 7, iPhone 7 Plus, iPhone 8, iPhone 8 Plus, iPhone X, iPhone XS, iPhone XS Max and iPhone XR. However, NFC tags can only be read as of the iPhone 7, older models do not support this function.

How does NFC work on the iPhone?

For a long time, NFC was exclusively approved for the use of Apple’s own mobile payment service Apple Pay. In stores that support the technology, the NFC-enabled iPhone is then simply held to the sensor or EC terminal to complete the payment process. Since Apple Pay has not always been equally available in all countries, the possibilities of the function on the iPhone have so far been limited.

However, the “Core NFC” framework introduced by Apple in autumn 2017 marks a turning point in terms of NFC on the iPhone. Via this framework, Apple has opened the NFC function on the iPhone for app developers. All iPhone models from iPhone 7 on can read NFC tags using an NFC reader app. In combination with such an app, users are able to scan NFC tags with their iPhone, e.g. to get further information on specific products in the supermarket or to get information on exhibits in the museum. When active, the app will display a scan sheet if there is a tag to be scanned.

On the iPhone XS (Max) and the iPhone XR, NFC tags can be scanned without having to start the NFC reader app first. This “Background Tag Reading” (as Apple calls it) happens automatically whenever the iPhone screen is illuminated. Once a tag is detected, a notification will appear on the screen prompting the user to open the item in the respective NFC reader app. However, the NFC tag must contain an URL. If content other than URLs is to be read, an NFC reader app still must be opened first.

However, Apple does not allow developers or users to label NFC tags with their own content. Only simple applications such as reading text, URLs or linking NFC devices to the iPhone are possible. Thanks to Apple’s opening of the NFC function, however, more and more apps will support the function on the iPhone in the future. Although iPhone 6 already has an NFC chip, only newer iPhones with at least iOS 11, such as iPhone 7, iPhone 8 or iPhone X, will benefit from “Core NFC” and the possible applications.

iPhone NFC reader app – Use NFC on iPhone

To be able to use NFC on your iPhone, you need a suitable NFC reader app. In the App Store you can download the free app NFC Reader for iPhone. The app supports reading NFC tags on iPhone 7, iPhone 7 Plus, iPhone 8, iPhone 8 Plus, iPhone X, iPhone XS and iPhone XS Max.

NFC Reader for iPhone
Price: Free
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