Apple yesterday took the wraps off iOS 11 and detailed a healthy chunk of new features set to arrive for iPad and iPhone owners some time this fall. One aspect of the new mobile OS that wasn’t talked about during the keynote was a new “Core NFC” framework that could expand near-field communication features for Apple devices beyond just its mobile payments support.
The change in how iOS makes use of NFC is detailed in a documentation webpage for the beta version of iOS 11, and it was reported by Engadget earlier today. (Apple did announce on stage yesterday that its upcoming watchOS 4 release would let the Apple Watch communicate with supported gym equipment using NFC.)
NFC is currently only used for mobile payments on iOS
As it stands today, NFC is used on the iPhone solely to transmit payment requests between a mobile device and a card reader. This is because Apple restricts how the chip is used at a system level within iOS. With the new Core NFC framework, however, Apple could let third-party developers make use of NFC in novel ways, or it could simply expand NFC functions beyond Apple Pay for use in its own apps and services. The documentation page says, “For example, your app might give users information about products they find in a store or exhibits they visit in a museum.”
As Engadget points out, there are more useful NFC use cases that go beyond holding your phone up to a museum exhibit or movie poster to get bombarded with an ad. You could make use of “tap-to-pair” functionality for linking Bluetooth speakers and other accessories to your iPhone, something Android allows and a big workaround to obnoxious wireless pairing woes. Apple could also let the iPhone’s NFC chip support transit passes or workplace keycards. You could imagine Apple releasing a general-purpose app, or build new features into the existing Wallet app, that let you manage NFC data exchanges as if they were just like airline boarding passes, movie tickets, or coupons.
Of course, this is all speculative. But it’s promising news for those eager to turn their iPhone into a kind of one-stop-shop for all their mobile wallet and authentication needs. If Apple can get developers and others — even companies trying to promote new movies and attractions or even just sell ads — to come onboard, NFC could take on a larger role in the iOS ecosystem.