The United Kingdom’s government is preparing an app that will allow EU citizens apply for residency in the U.K. The app will allow users to fill out a short form, take a selfie, and scan a chip inside their passport using their smartphone’s NFC reader. Sadly, this won’t work with the iPhone, due to Apple’s restrictions on NFC usage.
The problem is Apple does not give developers full access to the NFC chip inside iPhones. NFC reading APIs only support the NDEF data format. The government’s plan is simply not possible with iOS as it stands today.
Android lets devs freely read and write data through the NFC protocols, and apparently the government is close to releasing the Android version of the app.
The BBC reports U.K. home secretary Sajid Javid visited Apple in Cupertino to discuss the matter. Apple is said to have resisted the idea and made no promises about changing its NFC policy.
When the NFC chip debuted in the iPhone 6, it was initially limited to Apple Pay transactions. It remained that way until the release of iOS 11 last year, when Apple’s CoreNFC framework began allowing third-party app developers to read NDEF data from NFC tags. Apps are required to be launched by the user and open in the foreground.
Although the iPhone XS, iPhone XS Max and iPhone XR support background reading of NFC chips, data must follow a strict format, which the data encoded inside the U.K. passports does not fit. The report indicates the U.K. government was aware of the iPhone’s NFC limitations, but had hoped iOS 12 would add the features the U.K. app requires.
9to5Mac notes the Dutch government is also putting pressure on Apple to change its NFC restrictions, as it also wants to offer passport scanning apps to its citizens.