iPhone NFC Limitations A Lost Opportunity For Apple Developers

NFC is among the many features Apple added to the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus. Near-field communications is a short-range radio technology that has a handful of use cases. The initial excitement about having NFC in the iPhone faded a bit this week upon learning that Apple has restricted what the NFC radio can do. This is a big downer for developers.

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NFC has been around for years. Most current Android smartphones include NFC radios, as do those running Windows Phone. The radio is generally built into the back panel of the phone. It activates when brought in close proximity to an NFC tag or NFC reader. Tags and readers are all over the place. Many happen to be in other consumer electronics devices, such as Bluetooth speakers.

Tapping together an NFC-equipped smartphone with an NFC-equipped Bluetooth speaker will, for example, automatically connect the two devices via Bluetooth. NFC tags are even more useful. I have several tags sprinkled around my office and even in my car. Tapping the NFC tag in my car, for example, turns off the Wi-Fi radio on my smartphone, turns on Bluetooth and pairs it with my car, and sets my phone in driving mode. In other words, NFC can help take a three- or four-step process and boil it down to a single tap. Truly good stuff.

The Apple iPhone 6 and 6 Plus won't be able to perform any of these actions. Instead, the NFC radio is limited to Apple Pay, Apple's new mobile payment service. Apple hasn't publicly said why the new iPhones' NFC radio is limited, but the news was confirmed by Cult of Mac and The Verge. This means Apple is the only company able to access and/or use the NFC radios of the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus.

Much like it did with the TouchID fingerprint sensor with the iPhone 5s last year, Apple is keeping this technology close to its vest. Apple only opened up developer access to TouchID with iOS8, which hasn't yet been made available to consumers. With the iOS8 SDK and APIs, developers can build in TouchID support to their own apps, allowing them to add biometrics for security. Any developer hoping to put the iPhone 6's NFC radio to similar creative use is sorely out of luck, at least for now.

This mostly hurts accessory makers for the time being. Any company hoping to make use of its status as a "Made for iPhone" gear supplier won't be able to tap into the benefits of NFC, despite its presence in the new smartphones from Apple. Perhaps that will change after Apple Pay launches and is deemed a success (or at least secure).

What do you think, is Apple making a mistake here, or is NFC something about which most consumers are even aware? Feel free to sound off in the comments below.

 

Eric Zeman I am a journalist who covers the mobile telecommunications industry. I freelance for ProgrammableWeb and other online properties.

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