2018 iPhones can read NFC tags without opening an app

The reveal of new iPhones managed to once again bring Apple to the spotlight, with an array of new features including improved cameras, faster performance, better battery life, and the use of recycled materials to make the phones more eco-friendly. There are some features that were not shared on the stage. One of these new features is a change to how new iPhones interact with NFC tags, thanks to background tag reading.

iPhone XS background tag reading NFC

NFC is a gateway to a lot of features on the iPhone, the most prominent use being Apple Pay. Prior to this, you’d have to start the app first and then interact with the NFC tag for devices to communicate.

Thanks to updates to Core NFC, iPhone XR, XS, and XS Max have the ability to interact with NFC tags right from the home screen and lock screen, as long as the display is turned on and device is unlocked. While it sounds like this can open a gate to malicious attacks, you still have to interact with a push notification that tells you what the tag does and what app it works with, for the tag to work.

There are certain caveats to this new feature; you need to have unlocked your iPhone at least once after a reboot, meaning if you reboot your phone and try to scan a tag, it will fail to work until you unlock the phone and try again. The second condition is that the feature will be disabled if the camera is running, an Apple Pay payment is in session or if Airplane mode is currently enabled on the phone.

To take a deep dive into the technical aspects of how all this works, check out the Tech Talk by Apple: What’s New in Core NFC.

The prospects of this feature are endless and reduce a multiple step feature into a single step, with your iPhone handling the associated app or action for you. Unfortunately, you shouldn’t be expecting this feature in any previous iterations of the iPhone as this is due to the revamp of the antennas in the newer phones which makes this feature possible.

You will be able to scan NFC tags with custom content such as phone numbers, emails, or other action prompts and they will open with their corresponding app as soon as you tap them on the screen. This is a significant increase on the convenience delivered to the user and we hope to see this in future Apple products as well.