As of June 6th, 2019, only iPhone XS, iPhone XS Max, and iPhone XR have background NFC scanning support. Background NDEF scanning was introduced with iOS 12 for the latest iPhones last year.
For clarification, background scanning means that when a phone gets close to the tag, a notification is displayed with the NDEF action encoded in the tag. It does not require opening or installing any apps.
This year Apple presented iOS 13 at WWDC 2019. iOS 13 brings some interesting NFC updates:
- Access to the NFC chip UID.
- Launching a Shortcut with an NFC tag.
- Better support for most NFC commands, required for some advanced usages.
- Support for writing NDEF messages. The protocol used for this feature is NFCNDEFTag.
- Locking an NFC tag already encoded with an NDEF message.
But… what about iPhone 7, 8 and X? These phones have CoreNFC API support, but they don’t have background scanning of NFC tags. An app capable of scanning NFC tags has to be installed and opened to scan NFC tags, and that is slowing down adoption because the experience is not as neat as just getting the phone close to the tag.
There are some rumours that indicate that Apple could potentially launch an update to allow older iPhones to read NFC tags.
For the moment, we will have to keep waiting for that great update that would bring background NFC scanning to iPhone 7, 8 and X. A workaround for the time being (for some applications) is using QR codes, because iOS users are familiarised with them and could scan the QR codes.