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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.

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. There are NFC tags, for example, in the form of small stickers that contain an NFC chip that can be described with various information (more on this in a moment). 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, iPhone XR as well as the iPhone 11 and iPhone 11 Pro (Max)

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 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.

After Apple had opened the NFC function on the iPhone for app developers with the “Core NFC” framework, iOS 13 now allows NFC tags to be read out as well as labeled using an NFC app. Within the app, NFC tags can then be written on by the user and linked to actions. This works on all iPhones since the iPhone 7.

In combination with such an app, users are also 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), the iPhone XR as well as the iPhone 11 and the iPhone 11 Pro (Max) 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. The iPhone then keeps a constant eye out for the corresponding signals in the background. 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.

How to create a Shortcuts automation via NFC?

Starting with iOS 13, you can create so-called “automations” via the Shortcut app on the iPhone and trigger them through a NFC tag. So for the first time you can label and execute NFC tags with your own actions – e.g. playing a song or starting HomeKit scenes – as soon as you hold the iPhone to the tag.

The whole thing works exclusively on iPhone XS, iPhone XS Max, iPhone XR as well as iPhone 11, iPhone 11 Pro and iPhone Pro Max. Older iPhone models do not support NFC-based automation. By the way, you can buy the necessary tags in the form of adhesive stickers with an integrated NFC chip at Amazon for little money.

This sounds complicated at first, but in principle it is child’s play. Open the pre-installed Shortcuts app on your iPhone and go to the tab “Automation” at the bottom. Then tap the plus button in the upper right corner and go to “Create Personal Automation”.

Scroll down and select “NFC” as the trigger for your (not yet created) automation. Then press the “Scan” button and hold your iPhone to the NFC sticker.

After you named the NFC tag, tap on “Next” in the upper right corner. Now you can assign an action to the sticker by tapping on “Add Action”. Then select an action from the categories or suggestions to start when you hold the iPhone to the sticker. For example, you can start a call, send a message, or play a song.

Confirm your choice with a tap on “Done” in the upper right corner and you have created your first NFC-supported automation. You can now place an NFC sticker anywhere you frequently use your iPhone – such as the office, bedroom, car, or front door – and label it and perform actions by holding your iPhone near the tag.

How to use an iPhone NFC reader app?

If you don’t have an iPhone XS, XS Max, XR, 11, 11 Pro or 11 Pro Max to label and read NFC tags in the Shortcut app, you will need an NFC Reader app. For example, you can download the free NFC for iPhone app from the App Store. Starting with iOS 13, this app supports reading and labeling NFC tags on all iPhone models starting with iPhone 7. Older models – such as the iPhone 6s – don’t support reading and labeling NFC tags with the app, by the way.

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