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UPDATED: iPhone NFC Compatibility: Everything You Need To Know

UPDATED: iPhone NFC Compatibility: Everything You Need To Know

UPDATE: NOV 2019

We’re sure you’ve seen all the talk about Apple’s NFC updates with iOS13! If not you can read our blog about Apple's announcement of ‘core NFC’ here

If you’re confused about which models of iPhone are now NFC compatible, and which ones aren’t, don’t panic; here’s a quick update to our guide. 

The main thing to be clear about is iOS13. With Apple’s initial announcements, it was believed that iO13 would unlock native NFC on most iPhone models. Unfortunately, this hasn’t been the case.

Even with iOS13 the 7, 8 and X iPhones cannot read NFC Tags natively. This means that for these generations of iPhones to read and NFC tag, an app is still required.

Here’s a quick breakdown; 

  • The iPhone 6 and 6 Plus have NFC, but only for payments. They cannot scan NFC tags either with or without an App. 
  • The iPhones 7, 8 and X also have NFC for payments but additionally, with iOS 11 and an NFC App, they can read NFC tags.
  • The latest iPhone XS, XS Max and XR have NFC for payments and can read NFC tags with or without an additional App. In addition, the iPhone XS and XR can encode NFC tags when running the latest iOS 13 software.
  • The latest generation of iPhones, the XS, XS Max and XR are the first to be able to read NFC out of box. 

And if you’re still wondering what your phone can do; here’s a handy table.

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NFC (Near-field communication) was invented to add contactless data transfer to mobile devices. NFC has three distinct modes of operation. The first is card emulation, where your phone acts as a credit card to make payments. Secondly is NFC read/write functionality, where NFC-enabled devices can interact with non-powered NFC enabled objects. And finally Peer-to-Peer (P2P), where you can file share between two powered NFC-enabled devices. 


While pretty much all Android devices have had full NFC capabilities since 2012, Apple, have been more conservative in implementing the technology. Choosing instead to wait until NFC had found a solid consumer use-case, this came in the form of Apple Pay (with the iPhone 6). However, rather than embrace all NFC capabilities, Apple chose to remove all mention of NFC and kept to just Apple Pay. 


This functionality stayed the same with the introduction of the iPhone 6s, 6s+ and the 5SE. These models had a fully functional NFC chip, but functionality remained locked to just Apple Pay. 


This changed in 2017 with iOS 11. The iPhone 7, and newer devices could read NFC through a 3rd party app. Unfortunately, Apple did not open up this capability to the older iPhone models. However, this was still a big step, as it gave brands the possibility to embed web or app based content directly into their products. 


Now, in 2018, these capabilities have been extended even further. The iPhone XS, XS Max and XR all come with the capability to open up NFC tag reading from the homescreen. By removing the need to install a 3rd party app, Apple have created a direct-to-consumer content channel. This effectively bridges the gap between the physical and digital world and opens up big possibilities for businesses and consumers. 


Looking to the future, Apple still has a way to go before iPhone fully supports everything NFC has to offer - such as file sharing with NFC’s peer-to-peer mode. However, the recent steps Apple has taken are promising, and shows that Apple knows it cannot avoid NFC for long. 


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