Apple is about to make Physical Web access easier for iPhone users. Starting with iOS 11, iPhones are expected to be able to activate Near Field Communication (NFC) tags and launch QR codes to discover content and interactions, joining Bluetooth beacons as digital touchpoints for the Physical Web.

Apple quietly announced the touchpoint support earlier this month, during the Keynote Address of its developer’s conference (fast-forward the video to 92:47). Both QR and NFC were part of a slide that showed 59 new features that are expected to be part of iOS 11, which is currently in developer beta in anticipation of a fall release. QR code support also appeared atop a list that highlighted updates for users in China.

By adding these new digital touchpoints, Apple is helping to grow the ecosystem for the Physical Web, which benefits iPhone and Android users alike. The Physical Web is a virtual layer of digital content associated with places, things, and devices in the physical world. An array of digital touchpoints — QR codes, NFC tags, Physical Web beacons — serve as “gateways” to the Physical Web by utilizing the common URL. The more smartphone operating systems, mobile apps, and browsers that can discover nearby touchpoints, the easier it becomes for anyone to quickly access useful digital content during real, physical world moments.

This all makes Apple’s support for digital touchpoints a rich opportunity for brick-and-mortar brands, organizations, and marketers. And with a Physical Web platform, you can easily add a digital layer to things in the physical world by giving your customers digital content through QR codes and NFC tags, as well as Bluetooth beacons.

A QR code renaissance is upon us.

Browsable QR CodesIn particular, QR codes are cool again. Despite a history of poor user experience, QR codes are experiencing a rebirth as apps like Snapchat, Twitter and Pinterest have all recently added support. China’s top social app, WeChat, has led the QR code resurgence, now with 1.1 billion registered accounts and 846 million monthly active users. Browsers like Google Chrome and Samsung Internet also added support this year. Even Facebook Messenger and Spotify use QR-like codes to share information.

Improved phone cameras and direct access to QR codes from popular apps have helped drive this renaissance. QR codes also provide a fast, easy gateway to the mobile web. In iOS 11, the QR code feature can be toggled on and off, but it appears that it will be on by default. People will be able to point their iPhone cameras at QR codes and see a notification, which the user can take action on or not. For example, if the QR code is for a website, the user can tap the notification to open in Safari. QR codes in iOS 11 can also launch web-based interactions like live chat support, in-store e-commerce and more, all while eliminating the need for a separate app to scan the code.

The magic touch of NFC tags.

Browsable NFCMeanwhile, proponents of NFC tags, like Lisa Seacat Deluca, technology strategist for IBM Commerce, rejoiced Apple’s decision and is excitedly looking forward to “all the retail and commerce use cases where NFC is going to change the world.” With the activation for NFC tags being a simple touch from a smartphone, it fully complements other digital touchpoints: QR codes (visual touchpoints) and Bluetooth beacons (wireless).

The CoreNFC framework for iOS 11 describes how developers can use NFC tags provide more information about products in a store or exhibits in a museum, but they can do so much more, from preview websites, turn on lights, unlock doors, and operate devices like candy machines.

NFC tags don’t require batteries. Instead, they get their power from the electromagnetic field created in proximity to a smartphone. NFC tags give marketers the flexibility to use a digital touchpoint where touch is the most appropriate for the subject or environment.

A Physical Web platform makes this easy.

While QR codes, NFC tags, and Physical Web beacons each have their own unique user experience, these touchpoints can all be managed in a single Physical Web platform to work more effectively with each other. When you can deliver easy-to-manage, dynamic and browsable content at any – or all – of these touchpoints, your customers get super-fast previews of relevant websites, videos, promotions, and expert interactions like live chat.

Apple is moving to bridge the physical and digital worlds with its support for QR codes and NFC tags. People already use their smartphones when they want to learn, do or buy something, and iOS 11 will give millions of iPhone users immediate access to the Physical Web, where millions of Android users already interact. Apple’s dramatic changes to the iPhone will create a rich opportunity for marketers positioned to take advantage of an expanded Physical Web.

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