Apple Pay
The iPhone's NFC chip currently only works for Apple Pay. REUTERS/Maxim Zmeyev

Apple just revealed iOS 11, the upcoming new version of the iPhone’s operating system, and it may be bringing new capabilities to the NFC chip. It was discovered on the documentation webpage for iOS 11 beta that the software update will come with a new Core NFC support.

The NFC features on Apple’s iPhones are sued for making Apple Pay transactions and Passbook check-ins. Beyond that, the iPhone’s NFC chip doesn’t allow any other capabilities that’s already found on Android smartphones.

NFC can be used to connect to Bluetooth headphones, share contact information and has been used by Nintendo for its Amiibo accessories for years. All a user has to do is to tap their NFC-equipped device to an NFC reader to get connected or receive information.

With iOS 11, it looks like Apple is now open to expanding the NFC capabilities of the iPhone beyond just Apple Pay, as reported by Engadget. The documentation page for iOS 11 beta shows that the updated software adds support for Core NFC, which is described as “a new framework for reading Near Field Communications tags and data in NFC Data Exchange Format.”

To put it simply, support for Core NFC means that an iPhone running iOS 11 would be able to read other NFC tags other than Apple Pay. The added Core NFC support allows the chip inside the iPhone to read these tags thereby letting the iPhone communicate with other devices.

“Your app can read tags to give users more information about their physical environment and the real-world objects in it,” Apple said on its updated iOS 11 page. “For example, your app might give users information about products they find in a store or exhibits they visit in a museum.”

Perhaps with iOS 11, Apple wants developers to start making new apps that can support NFC features. This could open up a new avenue of possibilities to how NFC can be used on the iPhone. Another possibility here is that Apple may just be planning on expanding the features of the iPhone’s NFC in order to work on its other first-party apps and services other than just Apple Pay, as pointed out by The Verge.

During WWDC 2017, Apple already introduced expanded NFC capabilities for the Apple Watch with the watchOS 4 update. When watchOS 4 arrives this fall, Apple Watch users will be able to tap their wearable on an NFC reader that’s on a gym equipment. This opens up a two-way wireless communication between the Watch and the corresponding gym equipment so that the Watch can track the user’s workout more accurately, according to Apple Insider.

Apple briefly discussed expanded NFC capabilities of watchOS 4 onstage at WWDC, but neglected to talk about it for iOS 11. It’s possible that the feature isn’t ready yet, and Apple wants developers to get their hands on it first.

Expanding NFC capabilities on the iPhone could introduce easy pairing to wireless speakers/headphones, used as transit passes or even workplace keycards. Apple would also be able to expand the functionality of its existing apps like the Wallet app.