Now that full 3rd party NFC access is reportedly coming with iOS 13 tag support for ISO7816, FeliCa and MIFARE, does this mean developers get supercharged Core NFC and PassKit NFC Certificates generously handed out like condoms at a gay sex party? Probably not, the only new things in those rumors are ‘full access’ and ‘ISO7816’, but let’s take a look at some possibilities based on the 3 NFC Forum defined NFC Modes: Card Emulation, Reader/Writer and Peer to Peer.
It’s useful to remember that A12 Bionic powered iPhone is one of the most compelling ‘Global NFC’ devices on the market, with all the important technologies in one package sold everywhere: NFC A-B-F hardware and EMV, FeliCa, MIFARE, PBOC and VAS (value added service protocol) software. Android is fragmented, especially when it comes to FeliCa support.
Apple has invested a lot of time and money to guarantee everything is there and ‘just works’. A12 Bionic added Express Cards with power reserve that support certain NFC transactions without iOS up and running. A12 Bionic also added Background Tag Reading and the ability to read NFC tags ‘out of the box’ without a separate app.
The big frustration for developers has been that iPhone NFC is all dressed up with no place to go. iOS 12 NFC supports Card Emulation and Reader/Writer but severely limits the Secure Element access necessary for Card Emulation with NDA covered PassKit NFC Certificates, while Core NFC is a limited Reader/Writer Mode sub-set.
New Apple Card Wallet UI (U): After using Apple Card UI flavored Apple Pay Suica in iOS 12.2 with even more tweaks in iOS 12.3, I’m pretty sure that new PassKit controls for Apple Pay Wallet card customization: detailed transactions, summaries, balance payments, new card options and other UI goodies of the recently announced Apple Card, will be made available for all developers and iOS 13 Wallet cards.
The Apple Card UI and Wallet UI design language in iOS 12.2 and later, is so different from the rest of iOS 12 that I’m surprised nobody in the Apple tech blog space picked up on it. There are lots of useful card options and information that can be piped into Wallet cards from the card provider cloud, instead of sitting in a separate app.
This applies to card artwork as well. Static card artwork in iOS 12 doesn’t do anything and gobbles up precious screen space. The dynamic Apple Card UI and artwork convey important information to users while solving the wasted space problem.
I do have one more wish for the iOS 13 Wallet UI: please integrate the separate iPhone and Apple Watch Wallets into a single Wallet. It’s incredibly convenient to control all transit card recharge/reload and other options on iPhone instead of fiddling with the tiny Apple Watch screen to recharge a Suica card for example. Suica App manages separate Suica cards on iPhone and Apple Watch incredibly well in one place.
Easy Card Emulation: I am less sure how Apple plans to make card emulation easier for developers:
- New functions in PassKit that do more
- Less stringent and easier to obtain PassKit NFC Certificates
- A combination of the two or
- Something new altogether
I hope for a combination approach that keeps everything secure while making it easy for developers to add all kinds of non-EMV cards to Wallet, the major categories include…
- Transit Cards: Transit cards have been tricky because up to now each one has been a kind of custom in-house job by Apple in cooperation with the transit company. HOP launched May 21 and Ventra will arrive this summer. Clipper has been rumored for Apple Pay inclusion for some time. Hong Kong Smart Octopus (FeliCa) and Los Angeles area TAP (EMV only?) should arrive with the iOS 13 launch in September. It would be great if iOS 13 PassKit makes it easy to add all kinds of native transit cards like Taiwan EasyCARD and Melbourne Myki (both MIFARE) and more (like Calypso for example) to the mix, with Apple having to do less for a real transit card coming out party. Unfortunately I don’t see Singapore’s EZ-Link card ever joining the party unless iOS 13 PassKit makes it very easy to support customized technology like the Singapore only CEPAS.
- Prepaid Reward Cards: There are lots of these everywhere. In Japan we have: Edy, nanaco, WAON (all FeliCa), Dotour (MIFARE), Ueshima (Mag strip) and Starbucks (FeliCa and Mag strip). Some of these have apps that let users attach credit cards to the backend for online recharge. None of them are on Apple Pay but need to be, urgently, to combat manufactured QR code mania stealth marketing. The challenge for Apple here is the same as transit cards: make it easy for developers to do more, with open API access and easy to obtain PassKit NFC Certificates. I suspect one hold up has been that every single one of these prepaid reward cards wants to have an Express Card option to bypass authentication at the reader and iOS 12 Wallet only supports a single Express card at a time. Hopefully iOS 13 Wallet solves the problem.
- Regular Reward Cards: There are tons of these everywhere, mostly mag strip. My real wallet has JRE POINT, WAON POINT, Tomod’s, plus a crazy collection of stamp/point cards. How nice it would be if it was super easy for developers to port these to Wallet with NFC capability.
- ID Cards: This is where ISO7816 tag support fits in. Contactless Student ID cards in iOS 12 were a MIFARE only custom in-house job, transit cards without transit, by Apple in cooperation with Blackboard. Hopefully Apple will greatly extend ID card support in all NFC flavors for many companies and institutions, for all manner of ‘company only’ Wallet ID cards.
Android has a huge advantage over iOS because Android apps have the NFC access to do what they want. From RFID Insider:
Below are all the abilities/formats available for writing to a tag:
Business CardHow to Write an NFC Tag RFID Insider
Launch an Application
A fully functional Core NFC could do all this, but the important question is how would Apple want to do all this. NFC tags are great technology but they remain deeply geeky for the majority of users. The key is making NFC tags as friendly, easy and secure to use as Apple Pay. This is exactly what Apple plans to do.
At the TRANSACT 2019 conference Jennifer Bailey announced NFC tag Apple Pay. NFC tag Apple Pay works with or without apps. All the user does is tap a NFC tag and Apple Pay takes care of the rest as shown in the demo video using a SmartPlate NFC tag.
The easiest way to think of it is that instead of tapping a dedicated NFC reader to pay with Apple Pay, NFC tag Apple Pay turns your iPhone into the reader. An NFC tag and iPhone is all that you need to Apple Pay at a store.
What does this sound like to you? Yep, this is exactly what QR Codes do and NFC tag Apple Pay is aimed right at the ‘but the store doesn’t need an expensive NFC reader to use QR’ sweet spot that QR Codes have occupied up to now. NFC tag Apple Pay levels the play field, neatly eliminating the QR advantage while offering security that QR Codes cannot match.
However don’t assume that the QR players are chained to QR Codes, it’s an inexpensive and convenient technology for building payment system app services, nothing more, not particularly sacred. NFC tag Apple Pay works in an app and this offers Japanese QR Code payment systems such as Line, PayPay, etc., a way to incorporate Apple Pay NFC support in their app, if they choose to do so.
A12 Bionic iPhone XR/XS are the only devices that support background NCF tag reading and the native ability to read tags without an app. The big question in my mind is how Apple plans to implement NFC tag Apple Pay on older devices
Peer to Peer
iOS 12 does not support NFC Peer to Peer. I don’t see that changing in iOS 13 if it can’t be part of a new Apple Pay service. AirDrop already works well across devices that do not have NFC capability. That’s probably enough real world peer to peer for most people.
The Apple Pay theme for WWDC18 was ‘move Passes into Wallet, get rid of the QR Codes and replace them NFC.’ The new Apple Card UI improvements in Wallet and NFC tag support suggest the Apple Pay theme for WWDC19 will be: ‘move card functionality out of apps and into Wallet cards with new iOS 13 PASSKit controls, or get rid of apps altogether and replace them will all kinds of NFC enabled cards and NFC tags.’
It certainly makes sense. Apple Pay is NFC for the majority of iPhone users, the NFC thing that people use. Apple devoting iOS resources into making card emulation easier and better for 3rd party developers to add all kinds of cards to Wallet, and migrate functions out of separate apps to the Wallet card itself, will give the most bang for the development buck. NFC tag Apple Pay will finally bring NFC tags into the mainstream while eliminating the remaining advantages of QR Codes. It’s going to be a very interesting WWDC for all things Apple Pay.