Yesterday at Apple’s yearly developer conference, WWDC, Apple hinted at support for NFC on the main stage. If you looked closely at one of the slides, there was a blurb about NFC support. But no other mention of NFC beyond Apple Pay was ever discussed. I freaked out. Could Apple finally be opening up at least some support for NFC to iOS?
I listened on the edge of my seat (well, edge of my sit to stand desk) for the rest of the presentation but there was never a big announcement on stage. I took to social media to listen for the news, with Twitter being my favorite source of open source and tech gossip. A few minutes later, what I had been waiting for for three years finally showed up on my feed: a link to some documentation describing how to get started reading NFC tags with iOS. FINALLY!!!
I wasn’t alone with my excitement…the developer community was virtually jumping for joy. As an inventor, software engineer, and tinkerer, I jumped on the NFC bandwagon as soon as I first heard about the technology (back in 2014). Before NFC, I might’ve used QR codes or traditional barcodes to allow consumers to interact with some of my fun projects. But the problem with these technologies is the friction they cause to the user experience. As a user of QR codes, for example, you would have to take your phone out of your pocket, and turn on the camera/barcode application to scan the code, before the data could be read. This extra step makes interactions too clunky.
NFC tags, on the other hand, can be read without launching a separate application. It’s as easy as tapping your device to the tag to read its content. NFC has the added benefit of the tags being inexpensive (~10 cents each when purchased in bulk) compared to alternatives, such as Bluetooth beacons or RFID technologies. I’d also been tightly crossing my fingers selfishly because I recently launched a children’s book called The Internet of Mysterious Things, which is the first children’s book with embedded NFC tags on the pages to launch more information about the story. I was secretly hoping that iOS could support the tags to get the book in the hands of more families across the world.
In the Mobile Development Survey for 2016 by the Evans Data Corporation, 78% of developers surveyed said that they planned to write software to support IoT devices, and 45% of the developers surveyed are targeting iOS as their mobile development platform. Also in this report, 53% of developers were adding support for NFC for social applications, despite the previous lack of iOS support of NFC.
Now that Apple has announced the ability to read NFC tags, I expect these numbers to triple. And, hopefully, additional iOS support to write to the tags are right on the horizon. GoToTags.com recently blogged about some frequently asked questions surrounding the announcement from Apple. The biggest take away for me is that iOS 11 beta is available for download now but more realistically most users won’t have NFC reader support until the fall when a public software release is pushed out. That gives developers a bit of a leeway for innovation. We are going to see a lower cost barrier of entry for all of our “things” to have a little added smarts.
Executive Director of the NFC Forum Paula Hunter agrees saying “With both Android and Apple developers creating apps that can read NFC tags, brands have a huge opportunity to enhance consumer engagement. Many of the 36 billion objects being connected to the Internet by 2020 will likely take advantage of NFC tags. The key to market growth will be to deliver a predictable consumer experience across all NFC tag-enabled products and services.”
As a technology strategist at our IBM Watson Customer Engagement Cognitive Incubation lab, I’m personally looking forward to all the retail and commerce use cases where NFC is going to change the world. I can’t wait to see what other tinkerers come up with for NFC.
Can you tell I’m excited?!?