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Reading NFC Tags with an iPhone

The iPhone 7 and later can read NFC tags when running iOS 11 or newer. Only the iPhone XS / XR and newer, however, are capable of reading an NFC tag without the assistance of a third-party app (requires iOS 12 or newer). Not all iPhone models are NFC compatible.

Any iOS smartphone device older than the iPhone 7 cannot read NFC tags.

Tag Reading Methods

There are two methods through which NFC tags can be read with iPhone / iOS devices:

  1. Background Tag Reading
    • Compatible with iPhone XS / XR / 11 / 11 Pro
  2. Third-Party Tag Reading App
    • Compatible with iPhone 7 / 8 / X / XS / XR / 11 / 11 Pro

Background Tag Reading

The term background tag reading refers to an iPhone’s ability to automatically scan and read NFC data without using an app. This is sometimes referred to as native tag reading.

Background tag reading is supported on iPhone XS and later.

  • Supported Devices: iPhone XS / XR / 11 / 11 Pro
    • Software Requirements: iOS 12 or later

Only NDEF encoded NFC tags with URI records that contain Universal Links or currently supported URL schemes will be interpreted with background tag reading.

Third-Party Tag Reading App

Older versions of the iPhone (see supported devices below) are capable of reading NFC tags, but require the use of a third-party app to initiate the devices NFC reader mode. Third-party apps that support NFC tag reading can be found on the Apple App Store.

Tag reading via third-party apps is supported on iPhone 7 and later.

  • Supported Devices: iPhone 7 / 8 / X / XS / XR / 11 / 11 Pro
    • Software Requirements: iOS 11 or later

Core NFC Limitations

Apple’s Core NFC framework dictates which types of NFC reader sessions can be initiated by third-party apps to read NFC tags. A Core NFC framework is built into each version of iOS, thus NFC tag reading capabilities can vary as a byproduct of which iOS version is running.

With the release of iOS 13, third-party apps were granted the ability to initiate an NFC reader session to read an NFC chip’s UID and other previously limited features.

Updated on October 31, 2019

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