Can iPhone read NFC Tags?

The answer is yes, even if it depends on the model, and with some differences over Android and Windows.

Below is a summary of the state of the art.

iPhone X

  • NFC Sensor can read NFC Tags, and manage mobile payments
  • However, a dedicated app is required to read Tags
  • Tags must be NDEF formatted

Can read NFC Tags

iPhone 8

iPhone 8 Plus

iPhone 7

iPhone 7 Plus

  • NFC Sensor can read NFC Tags, and manage mobile payments
  • Update to iOS 11 required
  • A dedicated app is required to read Tags
  • Tags must be NDEF formatted

iPhone 6

iPhone SE

  • NFC Sensor can be used for payments only

CAN NOT read NFC Tags, unless using an external reader

iPhone 5 and earlier

  • No NFC Sensor

 

On September 12, 2017, Apple introduced the new iPhone 8, iPhone 8 Plus and iPhone X, along with the new iOS 11 operating system, released a week later.

iPhone X - NFCApple had already announced the presence of Core NFC, a package of SDK libraries within iOS 11 that allow reading Tag NFC. By updating to iOS 11, iPhone 7 and 7 Plus can read NFC Tag. iPhones 6 series and SE are actually equipped with an NFC sensor, but can be used for mobile payments only.

However, Apple devices behave a bit differently from Android for what concerns NFC technology. An Android smartphone can detect an NFC tag without any particular application installed, as long as the phone is not in standby mode. As for the iPhone, iOS does not have any native support for reading NFC tags and performing actions on the local device. An app must be installed to implement these actions. Additionally, the app must also be open, otherwise Tags will not be detected. One of the apps available for reading Tags with an iPhone is NFC Ideas.

Another peculiarity of iOS is that it allows you to read only tags that contain an  NDEF message (NFC Data Exchange Format), so to speak, the standard commands defined by the NFC Forum: URL, V-Card, plain text, SMS, email, call. In iOS, unlike Android, there is no "launch application" command (a Tag programmed to open a specific app).

Also, with iOS you can not even read the Tag's UID. As a result, all those applications that are based on UID reading, such as anti-counterfeiting or access control apps, are not possible with an iPhone, at least for now.

Finally, it's good to point out that iPhones can read NFC Tags, but can't program them. For programming, you must use an Android smartphone, or a PC with an NFC Encoder. Alternatively, Shop NFC allows you to purchase NFC Tags already encoded.