You may have heard of NFC scanning for making payments (e.g. Apple Pay), but did you know it can also be used for other purposes? There are a few different hardware options and many potential use cases. As it’s contactless it’s particularly relevant with the Coronavirus situation and social distancing measures.

What Is NFC Scanning?

NFC is short for ‘Near-field Communication’ and technically is a subset of RFID (‘Radio-frequency Technology’). It allows two devices to communicate at close distance (under 4cm), without contact.

The most popular application for NFC is for one device to act as a ‘scanner’ and another device to act as a ‘tag’ or ‘identity card’. This is how systems such as Apple Pay work – the payment terminal in a shop is a scanner and scans your phone (which is set to work as a payment identity card).

Mobile App – Scanner Options

A mobile app is a great way to utilise NFC, as being portable broadens the number of suitable applications. With mobile apps, there are a few different NFC scanner options.

Mobile Phones

Many Android and Apple mobile phones have NFC scanning built it. For iPhones this is available from iPhone 7 & iOS 13 onwards. For Android, a wide variety of phones (both high-end and lower-end) support NFC scanning.


At the current time, no Apple tablets support NFC – some do support Apple Pay, but nothing else. There are some Android tablets with NFC built in, but not many and there aren’t many recent products that support NFC.

External Hand-Held Scanner

External hand-held scanners typically connect to your mobile device using Bluetooth. An example of one is the SocketMobile DuraScan D600 –

External Desk-Based Scanner

External desk-based scanners are placed on a work surface and also usually connect to the mobile using Bluetooth. An example of one is the SocketMobile DuraScan S550

Mobile/Tablet vs External Scanner

For NFC scanning, using a mobile or tablet can prove tricky to correctly position the tag for scanning. External scanners don’t have this issue and are much easier to use. Also an external desk-based scanner also allows people to keep a large distance apart.

NFC Tag / Identity Card – Options

There are two main types of NFC tags / identity card options

Mobile Phones – Your mobile phone itself can act as a tag / identity card. This is the way it works for making payments.

Cards, key fobs, wristbands – The alternative are cards (typically credit card sized), key fobs or wristbands. You may have already used these as, for example some modern gym lockers use NFC wristbands.

Potential NFC Uses Cases for Mobile Apps

There are a large number of potential use cases for contactless NFC scanning in combination with a mobile app. These include:

  • Payments – Apple and Google have already developed systems and these are increasingly used by people. Additionally in some hotels, NFC technology is used to allow people to ‘buy’ drinks etc and they then automatically get added to their account and settled when they leave.
  • Guest Scanning – For example at events (including festivals or theme parks), you may want to give your attendees an NFC wristband and then use a mobile/tablet app with NFC scanner to scan them as move around different parts of the location.
  • Hospitality – If you’re offering a group of people hospitality and for example are providing coach travel, food and accommodation, NFC scanning can be utilised to efficiently ‘check-in’ guests and (through the use of an app) keep track of people and guide them to where they should be going. We recently developed such an app for guest check-ins at sports events.
  • Animal Identification – Very small NFC chips can be embedded into animals, which then allows them to be scanned via a mobile app (and either the built-in scanner or an external hand-held scanner).

Looking to have an app developed that utilises NFC scanning?

We develop apps for iOS and Android. Explore our mobile app development services and read about some of our experience with developing apps that use NFC.