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Apple Getting Serious About Near Field Communication on the iPhone


In November 2009, the US Patent & Trademark Office published a patent application from Apple that revealed various concepts behind a newly advanced application in development code named Grab & Go. Apple's patent introduced us to simplified data transfer technologies such as Near Field Communication (NFC) Interface and Sony's new TransferJet - which is now closer to being commercial viable. The new application discussed in the November patent would allow users who live in the fast lane to transfer data quickly between devices like their desktop and iPod by simply tapping their iPod against an iMac, for example. In today's patent we see that Apple is seriously detailing how they intend to update the iPhone and other Apple devices with NFC. The focused devices in this patent are no doubt the iPhone and MacBook. Apple provides us with some rather simple examples of how this will work but in concert with their Grab and Go app, we could see that this is a trend that will no doubt work itself to market over the next 24 months or so. The one interesting twist that Apple reveals is how the iPhone with NFC could be used as a work pass-key to enter your office, building or department – and eventually how this concept could expand to open your home or apartment door, car door and in theory, a hotel room door and so forth. Get ready, Near Field Communications is coming to the iPhone.

Apple devices to Gain "Near Field Communication" (NFC) Interface

While Apple's patent may have started on the topic of motion used in video games for the iPhone, we eventually get to the heart of the patent which is about Near Field Communication or NFC being integrated into the iPhone, MacBook and beyond.

Apple's patent FIG. 2 shown below is a block diagram illustrating various components and features of the device 10/iPhone - in accordance with one embodiment of the present invention. The block diagram includes motion sensing 62 and the NFC interface 44.



The first device the patent is focused on is the iPhone using NFC. The NFC interface 44 may be located within the enclosure 12, and a mark or symbol on the exterior of the enclosure 12 may identify its location within the enclosure 12. The NFC interface 44 may allow for close range communication at relatively low data rates (424 kb/s), and may comply with standards such as ISO 18092 or ISO 21481. In certain embodiments, the communication may occur within a range of approximately 2 to 4 cm. The close range communication with the NFC interface 44 may take place via magnetic field induction, allowing the NFC interface 44 to communicate with other NFC interfaces or to retrieve information from tags having radio frequency identification (RFID) circuitry. As discussed below, the NFC interface 44 may provide a manner of initiating control of external devices using the device 10.

An Example of an iPhone controlling a MacBook via NFC

In one example, the input value may be transmitted to an external device such as a MacBook - as is indicated in the Apples patent FIG. 7 noted above. The input value may be used to perform a function on the external device, such as unlocking the external device, or rotating an image displayed on the external device.

Of course, certain interfaces may require multiple input values. For example, a combination lock interface may require three input values with corresponding motion data indicating the direction and amount of rotation.

Accordingly, Apple's patent FIG. 10 noted above, also illustrates an iPhone (or iPod touch) using a motion-based input to control the display of a document on the external device/MacBook.

As shown in FIG. 10, the iPhone (device 10) may communicate with MacBook using a near field communication channel established by bringing the near field communication interfaces 44 and 92 within a close range of each other.


In some embodiments, the near field communication channel may be used for all communications between the iPhone and MacBook. However, in other embodiments, the near field communication channel may be used only initially to setup another communication link, such as a LAN or PAN link.

As shown, the iPhone has been rotated to the left, as indicated by the arrows 134, from its original position 136 to a new position 138. A screen 140 of the GUI 28 is displayed on the iPhone to facilitate control of the MacBook. The iPhone's screen 140 may be displayed in response to selection of the external control icon 34 (noted in yellow in FIG.1 above) or it may be displayed automatically upon establishment of the near field communication channel. The screen 140 includes a graphical element 142 depicting a document. The graphical element 142 may represent a corresponding document 144, shown here as a menu for a pizza restaurant, displayed on the external device display 88.

The MacBook (device 86) may be configured to rotate the document 144 contemporaneously with the rotation of the iPhone (device 10). As shown on the MacBook'[s display (88), the document has been rotated in a manner corresponding to the rotation of the iPhone. Specifically, the document 144 has been rotated to the left from its original position 146 to a new position 144, as indicated by arrows 150. As the iPhone is rotated, the iPhone may send motion data through the near field communication channel to the MacBook. Control circuitry of the MacBook may then interpret the motion data and rotate the displayed document 144 contemporaneously with receiving the motion data.

In other embodiment, the iPhone's screen may display the graphical element 142 to assist the user in controlling the external document 144. The document rotation techniques may allow the user to rotate documents and images such as maps, menus, photographs, and the like. Hmm, that's an interesting twist.

In certain embodiments, the motion data sensed by iPhone may be transmitted over a network connection established between the MacBook and the iPhone. The NFC communication link may be used to establish the connection, and then once established, the iPhone may be moved further from the MacBook. This may allow external control from a longer distance.

Opening Locks via NFC

In Apple's patent FIG. 11 we see an illustration of system 152 that may employ motion-based inputs to open a lock. The system includes an iPhone, an electronic device 154, and a MacBook. The iPhone may receive motion-based inputs and transmit the inputs to the electronic device 154. In certain embodiments, the electronic device 154 may be in communication with the MacBook to allow programming of the electronic device 154. The electronic device 154 may be a stand-alone device incorporated into a locking system, such as a door for a home or automobile.


The electronic device 154 also may be incorporated into a MacBook, a computer, personal data assistant, portable media player, cellular telephone, or the like. The MacBook also may include an NFC interface 172 for enabling NFC communication with the electronic device 154 and/or the iPhone. Note the "N" symbol within a box is shown on the devices in the graphic above under varying numbers such as 44, 172 and 92.

The electronic device 154 also may include a network device such as a network interface card (NIC or 164 not shown) that allows the device 154 to communicate with a MacBook over a network, such as a LAN, PAN, WAN, or the Internet. Using the MacBook Keyboard, a user may program the code for the lock 162. In certain embodiments, the GUI noted as 168 on the MacBook is the iTunes web service to facilitate programming of the electronic device 154.

For example, a code may be entered through the iTunes interface and transmitted to the electronic device 154 for storage in the memory 160. The iTunes interface also may be used to setup and provide security monitoring for the electronic device 154. For example, if an incorrect code is transmitted to the electronic device 154, the control circuitry 158 may transmit an alert to MacBook.

While we're on the topic of opening locks, it should be noted that patent discusses how you'll be able to use an NFC based iPhone, for example, to open up your office door or, for that matter, any door that would have a corresponding NFC chip incorporated – be it your home door, car door etc.


Apple's patent FIG. 12 illustrates one embodiment of the system 152 shown in FIG. 11 above. As illustrated, the electronic device 154 has been incorporated into a door 174. The lock 162 is disposed within a frame of the door and is configured to actuate to allow the door to open upon receipt of the correct code. The NFC interface 92 is disposed next to the door. The user 176 may bring their iPhone in close proximity to the NFC interface to enable communication between the iPhone and the electronic device 154. The iPhone may then be used to enter a motion-based input, such as a security code, and transmit the code to the NFC device 92.

Apple's adjoining patent FIG. 13 illustrates a method 180 that the electronic device 154 may use to open a lock in accordance with one embodiment. The identification information may include a serial number, cellular telephone number, or other identifier of the iPhone.

Security Advantages: Flowchart 13

On one side, the idea of an NFC lock on my doors sounds creepy and unsecure. On the other hand, there's an advantage. If someone breaks down your door is attempting to pry it open, or has tried to use a code to open your door unsuccessfully, you'd be notified on your iPhone that there's an incident in progress. You'd then be able to notify the appropriate authorities.

The device 154 (noted above) may then determine if the identification information is authorized (block 184). For example, the control circuitry 158 (FIG. 11) may compare the received identification information to identification information stored in the memory 160 (FIG. 11). If the identification information is stored in the memory 160, then the device 154 may authorize communication with your iPhone. If the information is not present, the electronic device 154 may end communication with the iPhone. However, if the communication is authorized, the electronic device 154 may request and receive a pin, or code from your iPhone.

The electronic device 154 may compare the pin to a code stored in the memory 160 of the electronic device 154 (block 190). The pin may include one or more numbers, motions, images, words, or a combination thereof. The electronic device 154 may then determine if the pin is valid (block 192) based on the comparison. If the code is not valid, the device may then transmit an alert (block 194) to the user. For example, the alert may be transmitted to an external device, such as a MacBook, that is accessed by the user. In some embodiments, the MacBook may be configured to transmit the alert to the iPhone.

Apple credits Michael Rosenblatt, Gloria Lin, Sean Mayo and Taido Nakajima as the inventors of patent application 20100042954, originally filed in Q3 2008.


Also read Patently Apple's November 2009 special report titled "Apple Working on Next Gen Millimeter-Wave Communication Applications" for more insights on this subject matter.

Notice: Patently Apple presents only a brief summary of patents with associated graphic(s) for journalistic news purposes as each such patent application and/or grant is revealed by the U.S. Patent & Trade Office. Readers are cautioned that the full text of any patent application and/or grant should be read in its entirety for further details. For additional information on any patent reviewed here today, simply feed the individual patent number noted above into this search engine.


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