There was a rumor out of the Apple World Wide Developers Conference in June that Apple had opened up NFC for developer access – creating hope that banks might soon be able to add payments to their banking apps. Below is the part of the article that dashes this hope and explains several limitations, but the full article includes informative graphics and more specifics on how each function is accomplished such as student ID card enablement and the limitations that exist:
“A12 Bionic is powering some very interesting new NFC features on iPhone XS and iPhone XR. Many people were disappointed at WWDC18 when Apple did not announce any changes to Core NFC. What people really wanted was all 3 NFC Forum defined NFC Modes: Card Emulation, Reader/Writer and Peer to Peer. iOS Apple Pay supports Card Emulation and Reader/Writer but severely limits Secure Element access necessary for Card Emulation. Core NFC is just a limited Reader/Writer Mode sub-set. Only developers with hard to get Apple issued NFC Certificates could do more.
Suica App is a good example of an extremely rare 3rd party app with NFC Certificate access to the A-Series Secure Enclave (SE) because Apple implemented a ‘virtual FeliCa SE’ in the Apple A-Series chip. This allows Suica App to recharge Suica card directly without going through Wallet, one of the very few apps that can. But there are limitations to this virtual approach: iOS has to be up and running for virtual FeliCa to work and Apple Pay Suica cannot do what FeliCa does on Android which is still work on transit gates when the device has run out of battery.
There are limitations of case-by-case NFC Certificate special access: slow expansion of new NFC service partners. The lack of established public frameworks is one reason native transit card support in Apple Pay has been expanding so slowly with big established NFC Middleware players such as MIFARE still missing from the Apple Pay platform.
One new thing that did come out of WWDC18 was NFC Certificate powered NFC Wallet Passes for iOS 12. Apple previewed the feature to media and guests entering the Steve Jobs Theater at the September 12 event. NFC Certificate enabled technology is being used for Student ID Cards, NFC Tickets, NFC Rewards Cards and more. If Apple is allowing more developers to get PassKit NFC Certificates with the iOS 12 release, I hope we’ll see new updated Apple Pay pages highlighting these new NFC features and partners.
running, similar to what exists on Android Osaifu-Keitai: no fancy stuff but enough to get the FeliCa Networks keys out of the A12 Secure Enclave and get you through the transit gate.
This ability of A12 Bionic to handle SE transactions without iOS running sets Global FeliCa on iPhone XS and iPhone XR apart from Global FeliCa on iPhone 8, iPhone X and Apple Watch Series 3/4. Apple Global FeliCa finally matches the performance of the Japanese Osaifu-Keitai standard with dedicated Sony FeliCa chips, on Apple hardware.
This ability of A12 Bionic Secure Enclave to function without iOS has other benefits as well: much better Apple Pay Suica performance. Apple Pay Suica on pre-A12 devices works great but never quite achieves the magic bulletproof performance of a plastic Suica card on transit gates. With Suica essentials running on A12 Bionic with no iOS overhead, Apple Pay Suica on iPhone XS really shines and is finally bulletproof. iPhone XS puts the disgraceful scandalous iPhone X NFC problem device where it belongs, the trash bin of Apple shame history alongside the Apple III.
FeliCa Student ID Cards
The iOS 12 Security Guide also makes clear that Student ID Cards are Express Cards with power reserve just like Suica transit stored value (SV) cards that open door locks instead of transit gates. The Blackboard card format is FeliCa based. The implementation appears to be PassKit NFC Certificate powered card emulation on eligible devices, the backend system handles student account SV ‘recharge’ from Apple Pay, similar to what Mobile Suica cloud does. Apple has not licensed MIFARE yet though the same power reserve technique can be accomplished with other middleware stacks that support it such as China Transit.
A12 Bionic is also powering the new Core NFC Background Tag Reading feature. I suspect Apple’s aim here is similar: they don’t want people to be locked out their smart home just like they don’t want students with NFC Student ID Cards to be locked out of the dorm when iPhone runs out of battery. It’s all about capturing what is great about smartcards on a smartphone: they don’t need a battery to work. It’s also a strategic win for Apple Wallet in the contactless turf wars as A12 Bionic NFC effectively destroys all rational for QR Codes, especially for transit, as they are less secure and can never work without power and a network connection.
It will be interesting to see what developers do with the new A12 Bionic powered NFC features.”
Overview by Tim Sloane, VP, Payments Innovation at Mercator Advisory Group