NFC: All over Near Field Communication in iPhone and Apple Watch

Read all about NFC (Near Field Communication) on the iPhone and Apple Watch here. This article explains the possibilities, such as paying and checking in with NFC and access control.

Everything about NFC

NFC (Near Field Communication) is a technique for communicating with devices at a short distance. This article explains the possibilities, such as paying with Apple Pay, operating devices at home and opening doors. We also explain what Apple does with NFC.

What is NFC?

Suitable NFC devices

Apple Watch and NFC

iPhone and NFC

NFC tags New N

FC functions in iOS

NFC Applications

Applications of NFC

All kinds of applications are possible with NFC, especially if you use NFC tags. Hang an NFC tag in your car and as soon as you hold the smartphone against it, the navigation app will be started. When you are in the office, you pass your device along an NFC tag to start the agenda app and to make the ringing tones a little louder. When you get home, you turn on Wi-Fi automatically. In the bedroom, you switch off your smartphone and switch off wireless functions as soon as you place the smartphone on your bedside table.

What is NFC?

NFC stands for Near Field Communication. It is a way to wirelessly exchange data between devices. NFC is often used for mobile payment, but there are also other applications such as access cards for office buildings or traveling by public transport. NFC works at a short distance and has a maximum range of approximately 10 centimeters. This range can be increased by increasing the power or using a focused NFC antenna. There is also an NFC chip in the iPhone and Apple Watch, which you can use by keeping the device close to the receiver, for example, a pay port or cash register.

Many people already use NFC unknowingly, by contactless payment with a debit or public transport chip card that is equipped with an NFC chip. Apple Pay works in a similar way, but the NFC chip is built into the iPhone or Apple Watch.

NFC is often mentioned in the same breath with RFID, identification with radio waves. This is a technology for reading information remotely via RFID tags, for example in chip cards that use NFC. Both are therefore closely related.

NFC is standardized by the NFC Forum, which includes Apple, Google, NPX, Sony, Samsung, and Qualcomm, among others.

NFC and suitable Apple devices

An NFC chip is only available in recent iPhones and in all Apple Watches. The NFC chips that Apple uses are made by the Dutch company NXP, which originated from Philips.

The following Apple products contain an NFC chip:

iPhone 6 and newer

iPhone SE

Apple Watch (all models)

Use Apple Pay with an Apple Watch.

NFC in the Apple Watch

An NFC chip is included in all Apple Watch models. This can be used to make payments with Apple Pay, for example, paying for coffee at Starbucks or checking in on public transport in London. You can make payments as long as the Apple Watch stays in contact with your skin. If you remove the Apple Watch from your wrist, you must enter a pin code to be able to use the payment function again. To use Apple Pay on your Apple Watch you need an iPhone 5s or newer.

NFC on iPhone

Since the iPhone 6, Apple has built-in an NFC chip for making payments with Apple Pay. On iPhones with Touch ID, you put your finger on the sensor, while you keep your device at the payment terminal. A beep and vibration make it clear that the payment was successful.

With iPhones with Face ID you have to take a little more steps: you press the side button twice, unlock your device with Face ID and then hold the iPhone at the payment terminal. In that case, it may be more convenient to pay with your Apple Watch, if you have one.

You can read all about paying with Apple Pay in the tip below. With the iPad, you can make Apple Pay payments at online stores, but you cannot use NFC to pay in physical stores.

NFC tags

You do not only use NFC at payment terminals, but you can also use NFC tags, which means that there are many more options. NFC tags are key chains or stickers that you use for example in the car or on your bedside table to perform certain actions. Since iOS 13 you can easily configure these tags with the built-in Commands app. You can buy NFC tags from providers such as The iPhone recognizes a wide range of NFC tags, including NFC Forum Type 2 tags with chips from NTAG, MIFARE, and ICODE. If you choose NTAG it will almost always work.

A universal tag contains a chip that meets the specifications of the NFC Forum (in particular Type 2). Such a standardized NFC tag works with the NDEF format or NFC Data Exchange Format. This applies, for example, to tags from the NXP NTAGxxx series. It prescribes how data must be stored, for example, URL, telephone number, location or e-mail.

Although the iPhone 6 and 6s have an NFC chip, you can unfortunately not use this for NFC tags. Only from the iPhone 7 has Apple made some technical changes to make this possible. Do you have an iPhone 7, 8 or X? Then you will need to download an app from the App Store to read NFC tags. Search for this in the App Store for NFC, and you’ll find plenty of free options.

Do you have an iPhone XS, XR or newer? Then you don’t need a separate app to read NFC tags. The only condition is that you have unlocked your iPhone. You can then hold the iPhone against the tag.

New NFC functions in iOS

Since iOS 12, it is possible for external developers to read the NFC chip in the iPhones without having to open a special app. The iPhone can thus be used in more contactless ways, for example as an access key for a hotel room or as a card for public transport. However, using NFC tags without an app only works on the iPhone XS and newer.

In iOS 13.1, Apple has added support for configuring NFC tags in the Commands app. The app is also installed as standard, which makes setting NFC automation accessible to every user. You can activate HomeKit scenes, but you can also change the system settings. You can read how to do this in our separate tip on creating and using NFC tags.


In this tip, we explain what you need NFC tags for, how you make them and use them. This allows you to have actions performed faster with the help of your iPhone.

Use NFC tags with your iPhone

Since the iPhone XR and iPhone XS (Max), it is possible to read NFC tags in the background. This is called background NFC tag reading and means that you don’t have to open an app to perform an action. With some Android smartphones, this has been possible for some time.

Background NFC tag reading means that the aforementioned devices recognize an NFC circuit without any action from the user. For example, you stick the iPhone with a sticker, poster or package that has an NFC logo on it. The screen will then display an instruction as to what will happen, for example, open an app or a URL, make a payment or start a telephone conversation.

NFC Background tag reading

Via an app, interaction with the NFC tags is possible, for example requesting information, receiving a discount or making a donation. Use is made of the aforementioned NDEF format.

An example of an NFC app is the NXP Taginfo app for the iPhone, which you can download for free from the App Store. With an iPhone 7 or newer you can scan NFC tags with an app, while with the newer iPhone XR and XS you can scan the tags without an app.


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