Apple is expected to open up the use of NFC technology in the European Union to avoid fines and an ongoing legal battle with the European Commission. By doing so, Apple would finally offer its rivals access to its NFC communication technology, which is primarily used for contactless payments. This move is motivated by an ongoing investigation into potential antitrust practices by Apple Pay.
Currently, iPhone users can only make tap-and-go NFC payments using Apple Pay as their payment gateway. This prevents other companies from developing and offering their payment gateways on these devices, allowing for rival solutions only on Android. According to sources familiar with the matter, Apple has offered its rivals the possibility of accessing NFC payments.
Apple has been under investigation since 2020 for using NFC exclusively for Apple Pay. The company’s decision to open up the use of NFC now is due to the European Commission’s investigation nearing its end, prompting Apple to avoid further complications. It is worth noting that Apple has also been required by the European Union to implement the USB-C port in the iPhone 15. If they hadn’t adopted this policy, they wouldn’t be able to sell any of their devices in the European Union. A similar move could now be in store if the company doesn’t open up the use of NFC to competition.
Reports state that over 2,500 banks across Europe use Apple Pay, showcasing its immense popularity. This is unsurprising, as 100% of users who pay with an iPhone use Apple Pay as their method of payment. Essentially, it’s the only payment method available to them. Margrethe Vestager, the European Commission’s executive vice president, previously stated that there was evidence of Apple restricting third parties access to essential technology “needed for the development of rival mobile wallet solutions on Apple’s devices.”
Apple Pay is the only mobile payment solution that can access the “tap and go” NFC technology incorporated into iOS mobile devices for in-store payments. The investigation will also focus on the alleged access restrictions to Apple Pay for rival products on iOS and iPadOS smart mobile devices.
Apple is also facing a lawsuit in the United States, which is more recent. In July of last year, Affinity Credit Union accused Apple of engaging in anticompetitive behavior with NFC, particularly forcing iOS users to use Apple Pay for any contactless payment. Just this year, in September, a US District Court judge in California ruled that the case could proceed. If Apple ultimately opens up the use of NFC, it will not only affect the European Union, similar to the implementation of USB-C which has ended up definitively replacing the Lightning port.
The plaintiffs have plausibly argued that Apple Pay charges arbitrary and inflated fees to issuers, and that competition in the iOS mobile wallet tap and go market would stimulate innovation and lead to lower prices. The plaintiffs have adequately demonstrated Apple’s alleged attempt to monopolize the market.
Apple’s decision to open up the use of NFC in its iPhones in Europe is primarily aimed at avoiding antitrust fines.