After years of hesitation, Apple finally includes the Near Filed Communication (NFC) technology into its latest Smartphones, iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 plus, and its very first Smartwatch, Apple Watch. With this latest technology addition Apple wants to turn your iPhone 6 and Apple watch into a mobile wallet and eventually replace those (old) plastic bank cards currently sitting in your wallet. At its September product lunch event, Apple deliberately focused on mobile payment, one among dozens of NFC applications.
Now everyone knowing the Apple company and the history of their products well enough, is asking one question:
- Is it part of Apple’s future plan to release an iOS.API to provide access to its NFC functionality allowing other applications than mobile payment Apps to read NDEF messages in the NFC tags?
Before having the chance to get a precise answer to this question, it is worthwhile to know what else is possible beyond mobile payment in case Apple releases an NFC API.
NFC and its three communication modes
- Read/Write mode: In Read/Write mode, an NFC reader/writer (or NFC-enabled mobile phone acting as a traditional contactless reader/writer) reads data from NFC-enabled smart objects and acts upon that information. With an NFC-enabled phone, for example, users can automatically connect to websites via a retrieved URL, send short message service (SMS) texts without typing, obtain coupons, etc., all with only a tap of their device to the object.
- Peer-to-Peer mode: In Peer-to-Peer mode, any NFC-enabled reader/writer can communicate to another NFC reader/writer to exchange data with the same advantages of safety, security, intuitiveness, and simplicity inherent in Read/Write mode. In Peer-to-Peer mode, one of the reader/writers behaves as a tag, creating a communication link. For example, two devices (such as smartphones) with readers/writers can communicate with each other.
- Card Emulation mode: An NFC device in Card Emulation mode can replace a contactless smartcard, enabling use of NFC-enabled devices within the existing contactless card infrastructure for operations such as ticketing, access control, transit, toll-gates, and contactless payments. This is where Apple NFC sits now and what Apple Pay is based on.
NFC is a low power, low cost and secure technology
Experts predict an explosion of connected “things” to occur over the next few years. As more things get connected, concerns over data privacy and security will escalate. Utilising NFC as a communication method can help address some of these concerns.
Mobile devices offer several different wireless connectivity options, each with their different strengths and capabilities. But among these, only NFC is specifically designed and engineered to provide zero power operation and maximise privacy, both at a very low cost.
NFC as a critical link for the Internet of Things and Big Data
As it was mentioned before, it seems that Apple’s current focus with NFC is Apple Pay, the Card Emulation Mode of NFC. However if developers (or manufacturers) could access Apple NFC API, for NFC Read/Write mode as well, they can develop/invent completely new use-cases like utilising the NFC in embedded applications for the link between the embedded system and iPhone 6. In these use-cases, an NFC-enabled device, i.e. iPhone 6, will provide the active reader, and the tag will be in the embedded system.
Functionally, a connected NFC tag in an embedded system (like kitchen appliances) behaves similarly to a dual port memory. One of the memory ports is accessed wirelessly through an NFC interface and the other port is accessed by the embedded system via an interface.
Through this functionality, data can pass from an external source (e.g., an NFC-enabled mobile device) to the embedded system. Furthermore, because NFC connected tags are passive, they can be read from, or written to, by the external source even when the embedded system is powered off. Because NFC connected tags function similarly to dual port memories, they facilitate any application that requires data transfer between an embedded system and an external system with an NFC reader/writer.
Cost-effective, enhanced user experience with NFC
For any product where adding an elaborate touch display for extended product features and remote control capability would ruin the aesthetics, add unwelcome cost to the bill of materials, or just simply would not fit, using NFC in Read/Write mode along with a dual port interface like NXP NTAG I2C provides the conduit between an embedded system’s microcontroller and a user’s NFC-enabled reader/writer device. As an exemplary application, this would allow for iPhone 6 (or any other NFC-enabled Smartphone/Tablet) to become an extended graphical display and touch screen user interface for kitchen appliances.
I will be happy to have your thoughts and comments on this topic,