Apple, Inc. (AAPL) has reportedly locked developers out of using near-field communications (NFC) on the iPhone 6 and 6+. Apple’s new devices include an NFC chip in their chipset, but thus far there’s been silence on the developer front with no APIs to support the feature. Now a report from top Apple-centric site Cult Of Mac claims that the lockout is intentional and likely permanent.
On Android devices, NFC has been used to power mobile payments; pair with hardware (e.g. speakers); communicate with “smart home” features such as wireless locks or climate controls; and even to support contact or file-sharing by tapping two phones together. Virtually all premium Android models have support for NFC. And while Google Inc.’s (GOOG) Google Wallet competes with some third party NFC payment apps, Google has thus far happily allowed competition via Android’s open NFC API.
By contrast Apple’s NFC will likely be good for one — and only one — thing at launch: Apple Pay. Apple has other applications in the works, such as wireless digital door locks, which will debut when the Apple Watch launches early next year. But such applications are thought to be tightly guarded, with only a handful of select hardware and software partners being allowed inside Apple’s NFC walled garden.
The NFC chip inside the iPhone 6 and 6+ is believed to be made by Dutch silicon giant NXP Semiconductor N.V. (NXPI). The chip itself is also used in Android and has broad open firmware support on Android devices, according to a report by PCAdvisor. Hence, unlockers may be able to free the device from Apple’s control. But for the majority of users who resort to unlocking NFC will be crippled at best on Apple’s new flagship devices.
Apple does provide support for mid-range wireless communications via the Bluetooth LE protocol (the basis of its so-called “iBeacons” technology). But Bluetooth LE is arguably less security and more power hungry than NFC given the fact that it operates at distances of up to 100 meters (330 feet).
Many developers will be irked to know that Apple has chosen to not only stifle potential rivals to its plan, but also to stifle the creativity of developers of other kinds of NFC products, which pose no threat to Apple’s services. To avoid backlash from developers Apple is reportedly not marketing the new support of NFC in the devices, rather opting to exclusively promoting the technology as “Apple Pay Compatibility”, which is double speak for “locked NFC”.
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