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The government’s document check app for EU citizens applying for settled status is finally being tested on Apple devices.
The technology vendor has announced that new version of its mobile operating system will, for the first time, allow third-party developers to access the near-field communication (NFC) capability of its devices. NFC is the technology that powers contactless payments and electronic ticketing systems like London’s Oyster card.
While the updates to Apple’s NFC framework for external developers will not extend to allowing third-party apps to read payment cards via an iPhone’s NFC, it will enable the devices to read information from other types of card – and identity documents.
In a statement issued to Civil Service World’s sister publication PublicTechnology, a Home Office spokesperson said that, in light of Apple’s recent announcement, testing of the app on the iOS platform has now begun.
“The home secretary has already confirmed that the EU Exit ID Document Check app will be available on Apple devices this year,” the spokesperson said. “We are now testing the app on Apple devices with the new functionality.”
The changes will take effect in iOS 13, which has just been released to developers. The software will become commercially available once Apple launches the next generation of iPhones – which is expected to take place sometime in September.
The iPhone 6 is the earliest model on which the new operating system can be installed – although the new NFC framework will only affect models from 2016’s iPhone 7 onwards.
Speaking at Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference, which took place in California earlier this month, software engineering manager Gordon Scott told attendees that they would be able to create and read tags in the NDEF format – which can enable interaction with an iPhone’s NFC capability.
“Ever since we launched the core NFC framework, developers have been asking for one specific thing. Here at Apple, we have listened to your request,” he said. “Not only will your applications be able to read and write NDEF-formatted tags, but you will be able to interact with tags using their native protocols. And this has a huge impact on the kinds of things you will be able to do with tags within your applications. For example, you can read passports, contactless smart cards, and interact with NFC-enabled hardware.”
The government has faced criticism since it was first revealed that the document check app would not work on iPhones. The Home Office has always stressed that, since the settled status scheme launched in full, applicants have the option of posting their documents or borrowing a friend’s Android device. It has also set up a network of 70 locations around the country where applicants can have their passports scanned.
PublicTechnology understands that, even once the Apple app becomes available, these document-scanning locations will remain in operation.