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iPhone as RFID Tag & Reader: Coming Soon

posted 18 Jan 2010, 03:12 by Ramy Caspi

Written by Richard MacManus / January 13, 2010 5:30 AM / 15 Comments

We began our Mobile Web Meets Internet of Things series yesterday with a look at barcode scanning. We wrote that smartphones are increasingly being deployed as readers for barcodes - in particular via apps available on iPhone and Android. These applications, such as RedLaser on iPhone and ShopSavvy on Android, allow you to scan a barcode on a product or object and get more information about it.

We noted however that RFID tags are more functional and flexible than barcodes. While barcodes are cheaper and getting traction in the U.S. with the QR format, the potential for RFID tags is even greater. Apple knows this and if rumors are to believed, RFID will be integrated into the iPhone 4G later this year.

According to a number of believable blog reports, RFID is set to be a part of the as yet unannounced iPhone 4G. Apple holds a patent for a touch screen RFID tag reader and is said to be testing an RFID-enabled iPhone currently. So RFID could be a feature of the iPhone 4G as soon as Spring 2010.

As MacRumors succinctly explained in November, mobile phone usage of RFID technology will come in the form of Near Field Communication (NFC). NFC is a new standard based on RFID and it has three use cases: the phone as an RFID tag; the phone as RFID Reader; and peer to peer communication (P2P) between two NFC-enabled phones.

The first two use cases are the most interesting. Using the iPhone as an RFID tag means it can be a deployed as a payment device (similar to a credit card), identity card, security device, and more. This type of functionality is already happening in Japan, where the RFID Suica chip is installed in some mobile phones.

Using the phone as an RFID Reader allows the iPhone to interact with RFID-enabled objects in the real world. Check out this prototype from a Norwegian research organization called Touch, using the iPhone as a Media Player:

Timo Arnall from Touch noted in a follow-up post in November that RFID and NFC peripherals are beginning to be released for the iPhone.

2010 could be a great year for RFID in the consumer market, if it is to be a feature of the next iPhone. Expect to see it in Android devices too.

Will mobile phones provide the tipping point for adoption of the Internet of Things? We've seen now that mobile phones are a big driver of consumer adoption for both barcodes and RFID tags, so we wouldn't be surprise 

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