Reading NFC Tags with an iPhone (iOS)

All iPhones since the iPhone 7 can read NFC tags in some way; earlier models of iPhone lack the appropriate NFC controller to do so and more modern iPhones have additional methods to read NFC tags.

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How to Read NFC Tags with an iPhone

There are two primary ways to read an NFC tag with an iPhone; using native iPhone apps or with 3rd party iPhone apps.

Native iPhone Apps Only

For many simple, yet useful NFC features an app is not required to read NFC tags and perform actions with iPhones that support Background NFC Tag Reading. The native iOS apps such as Safari, Mail, Messaging, Maps and others listen for the appropriately formatted NFC chips and respond with expected actions. The most common being listening for an NDEF website record and opening the URL in the Safari web browser. Not having to download an app broadens the user base that will use the NFC tags as it removes an additional hurdle. As of iOS 15, there is not a dedicated native iPhone app to read NFC tags, and there probably will never be one.

3rd Party iPhone Apps

For more advanced NFC functionality with an iPhone beyond what is provided with native iOS apps a 3rd party app is required. Developers use the iOS Core NFC Framework to add NFC functionality to their apps. Both foreground and Background NFC Tags Reading functionality can be implemented in 3rd party apps.

3rd party apps which use NFC break down into two subcategories:

  • Dedicated iPhone NFC apps whose primary purpose is to read and optional encode NFC tags; these are often used by software developers
  • General iPhone apps which use NFC functionality and NFC tags as features in their app, but whom NFC is not the primary feature; these are used by general users