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What is NFC Tag Reader on iPhone?

Did you know you could pay for your shopping at a mart or gas at a gas station with just a click? Sounds like magic. So, how is this possible?

Well, the master of this magic is Apple’s NFC Tag Reader. It makes swift and contactless payment possible with  Apple Pay through wireless NFC technology.

NFC Tag reader was first introduced through the release of the iPhone 6 back in 2014. Over the years, it has been polished and expanded with every iOS update and now stands as a highly-accessible wireless payment and data-exchange gateway.

Read on to delve deeper into the inner works of NFC Tag Reader technology.

What is NFC Tag Reader on iPhone?

NFC stands for Near-Field Communication. It enables devices in close proximity to wirelessly exchange data and information.

NFC scanning can be used on supported iPhones to read data attached to electronic NFC Tags strapped to real-world items.

You don’t need to make any contact with the object. Just holding the phone near it is enough for your iPhone to capture the data and initiate transactions.

This is especially effective in recent times of the Coronavirus pandemic since it complies with social distancing and limited touch.

Using my American Express creditcard with Apple Pay
Picture Credit:
CardMapr Via Unsplash

With an NFC Tag reader,  you can pay over the counter, exchange data, activate locks, and doors, and easily interact with any supported device or tag.

Before you get all hyped up to use this feature, save yourself from disappointment and check out the list of NFC-compatible devices:

iPhone Devices Compatible with NFC Tag Reader Technology:

  • iPhone 6, iPhone 6+, iPhone 6 S, iPhone 6 S+
  • iPhone 7 and iPhone 7+
  • iPhone 8 and iPhone 8+
  • iPhone X
  • iPhone XR, XS, XS MAX
  • iPhone 11, iPhone 11 Pro Max, iPhone SE
  • iPhone 12, iPhone 12 Pro Max, iPhone 12 Mini
  • iPhone 13 and corresponding series.

How to Use NFC Tag Reader on iPhone?

There’s a very simple method to activate the NFC Tag Reader on iPhone.

To use the tag reader, you will have to first, add it to your Control Centre. It’s the drop-down menu that appears when you swipe downwards on your iPhone’s screen.

Navigate to Settings > Control Centre > Customize Controls > Scroll your way to find NFC Tag Reader then press the Add icon(+) to add it to the Control Centre.

Now that the app has been added to the control center, you can simply drag it down on the screen to open Control Centre and click on the NFC Tag Reader app to start scanning for nearby tags. It’s as simple as that.

Another swift way to activate the tag reader is through Siri. You can activate the tag reader with a single command. For instance, “Hey Siri, Open NFC Tag Reader”This will activate the tag reader on demand for you. Truly contactless.

How Does NFC Work?

NFC (Near Field Communication) is a data transmission and communication protocol that allows smartphones and other devices to communicate with each other via radio signals when held in close proximity to each other. In working, it is very similar to RFID.

However, attributing to its very low effective range(~4 inches), the NFC connection is harder to eavesdrop on compared to RFID.

NFC-compatible hardware can communicate with each other as well as with NFC-signed tags. NFC tags are chips that are powered by a phone or other NFC hardware. The tags are like a sticker and they do not need a battery or any source of power.

You can consider them as a better replacement for QR Codes.

In order to establish a successful NFC connection, all you need to do is to bring two NFC-compatible devices closer to each other(about a few centimeters). For instance, if you have two NFC -equipped smartphones, you can make them touch and they will connect through the NFC field.

Features of NFC Tag Reader

As we discuss the features of NFC, allow me to walk you through the timeline of its growth.

Brief History of NFC Tag Reader

It was in 2014, on the launch of the iPhone 6 when the iOS ecosystem saw the introduction of NFC. Apple restricted NFC functionality to just making payments through Apple Pay. This means you could do no more than just pay wirelessly with NFC Tag Reader.

Using NFC To Make a Payment
Picture Credit: Jonas Leupe via Unsplash

All of this changed in 2017 with the onset of iOS 11. For the first time, iPhone 7 and newer models could read NFC through Third-Party applications. However, Apple didn’t revoke the restrictions in older models like iPhone 6, 6+, and so on.

Even so, this was a big step forward as the functionality to read NFC tags through a third-party app opened up the opportunity for brands to embed their web apps directly into their physical products.

In 2018, the NFC app was further expanded with the ability to read tags from the home screen. This removed the dependency to install a third party and scan through it.

This novel and more straightforward approach effectively bridged the gap between the physical and digital worlds and further created big possibilities for IoT(Internet of Things).

Towards the end of 2019, Apple further introduced the ability for phones to create (write) NFC tags with the help of third-party apps.

Apple’s NFC Tag reader grew over the years from just being a passive tag reader to a card emulator(Apple Pay) to a modern-day full-fledged IoT software that can connect and interact with IoT devices, and read and write NFC.

Newly added functions to the NFC reader app are – Background Tag Reading and In-app tag reading.

Background tag reading enables supported devices to automatically read NFC tags nearby when the screen is illuminated. In-app tag reading enables the users to scan virtual tags present within applications.


  • Read NFC Tags
  • Make Payments through Apple Pay
  • Connect and Interact with Tags that activate IoT devices, web apps or online content
  • Transmit Data
  • Encode original NFC tags


Since its addition to the iOS ecosystem in 2014, by virtue of the constant iOS updates and expansions, the NFC tag reader application has become a valuable resource that connects businesses to customers and users to other users.

It enhances everyday life tasks such as transactions and automation(in the case of IoT). We hope after reading through this article you have a brief idea of the inner workings of the NFC system, its history in the iOS timeline, and its relevance in today’s world.

Debarshi Das
Hails from the City of Joy! Publishing for more than 5 years now. Into all things that run on 0s and 1s. Heart resides in InfoSec. When the screens are off, you can find him on the football ground or battling wits at the local chess club.


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