Apple Pay brought NFC new public attention but only reinforced the association of NFC with payment apps. With the release of iOS-13, 2019 may be the game-changing year for NFC. In this latest release, Apple opens up access to the full range of NFC capabilities on iPhones. Why is this an important evolution? What new app opportunities does this create? Does this represent an opportunity for NFC to become a “universal” technology in the eyes of mobile users?
NFC and the mobile
Near Field Communication finds its origins in a set of technologies that were developed for contactless smart cards. These technologies were essentially, but not exclusively designed for use in secure applications such as payments, transportation, access control and personal identification.
Foreseeing the role mobiles would play in daily life, industrial players set out to ensure the place of these contactless technologies. They regrouped them under a common standard called Near Field Communication aimed at ensuring interoperability whether implemented in simple passive devices (cards and tags) or more complex systems like card-readers and mobiles.
In its earliest uses, NFC simply allowed the mobile to be used as a substitute for contactless smart cards. An NFC-equipped mobile, however, is much more than a smart card. It benefits from three complementary modes of operation:
Card emulation: The mobile acts as a contactless smart card. This is the most common mode for NFC in payment and transportation applications.
Reader: The mobile plays the role of a tag reader. It can read a tag or a smart card (such as an ID card or passport). This mode offers a range of potential new applications when mobiles connect to other equipment or appliances.
Peer-to-peer: Two mobiles can establish a secure, symmetric communication with each other. A typical application is for exchanging files such as contact information.