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iPhone as ID? Why iOS 13’s NFC changes are so important

Apple announced a whole bunch of new features at WWDC, and with the spotlights squarely on Dark Mode, iPadOS, and that $999 monitor stand, it was easy to miss the smaller stuff. One such announcement that deserves a second look is the improved NFC capabilities coming to iOS 13.

NFC, or near-field communication, is the technology that powers Apple Pay. Every time you touch your iPhone or Apple Watch to a payment terminal, it uses NFC to read data from your device and confirm the details it needs to make a sale.

When iOS 13 launches this fall, there are some pretty significant changes coming our way. Until now, Apple kept the system pretty locked down, only allowing it to be used with the NDEF standard that powers Apple Pay and the Express Transit system used in subway networks like the London Underground. Now, though, it’s embracing more standards and opening up to third-party developers.

This opens up so many new opportunities for users, and will pave the way for all kinds of systems to start incorporating the iPhone and Apple Watch in their services. It means we’ll start to see more and more places where your smart device can transmit or receive vital information with a simple swipe. We’ll see more transit systems worldwide embracing NFC ticketing, and more opportunities to pay popping up in our everyday lives, from ad-hoc bicycle hire to parking meters.

Perhaps most notably, these new standards allow governments to incorporate NFC in their own systems – meaning users would be able to use their iPhone to store officially recognized identification documents. Japan already intends to use NFC for its national ID system, while the UK and Germany have announced their intentions to facilitate digital passport scans. All this means that a user would be able to prove their ID pretty seamlessly, without the need to carry additional paperwork or documents.

In time, these changes could even have repercussions in the medical industry – we know that’s an area Apple is keen to improve with technology.

Apple is also adding support for NFC stickers, which would allow retailers to accept payment for individual items with a simple self-scan system powered by the user’s iPhone. That could encourage more businesses to try a cash-free approach to shopping.

All in all, what sounds like quite a boring addition on paper could have a pretty significant effect when it launches this Fall with iOS 13!