Shortcuts : how to use NFC tags at home with the iPhone

Among all the new features of the app Shortcuts built-in to iOS 13, there are automation personal. They allow you to automate some operations on your iOS device, for example to trigger a shortcut at a given time, when you connect to a Wi-Fi network, or when you get to a specific place. The iPhone released in 2018, offer an additional option that is particularly interesting : an automation based on a scan NFC.



How is it that this works ? What are the limitations to be expected ? What can we do with this option ? It makes the point !


Automation NFC is restricted to a handful of iPhone


To start with, the bad news. The automations based on an NFC tag that is reserved to very few iOS devices, six at the time I write these lines, to be precise :



  • iPhone XS ;

  • iPhone XS Max ;

  • iPhone XR ;

  • iPhone 11 ;

  • iPhone 11 Pro ;

  • iPhone 11 Pro Max.


Every iPhone that cam out before 2018 are not compatible with this function. The iPad are not compatible either, any more than the Apple Watch.


Maybe this will change one day, but in the meantime, you will have to do everything with an iPhone. In most cases, I would have preferred to use my watch which is always on my wrist, unlike my smartphone that I don’t keep it always on me at home. And then scan a tag with a phone is often less practical because of its size. We often want to place the NFC tag in a discreet corner, but this positioning complicates the scan with the iPhone.


To my eyes, the biggest problem of the automation of NFC is that it is limited to a single device in my home. Only my iPhone 11 Pro is compatible. IPhone X my spouse has been nice to integrate year NFC chip, it can not take advantage of this feature. So I can place tags a little bit everywhere, but it’s only me who can make use of it for the moment… a pity.


The question of the compatibility concerns also the NFC tags themselves. Not all are compatible with the NFC reader of the iPhone, which manages five technologies and different standards. We had detailed in this article , and you’ll quickly see that it becomes complicated, with multiple ISO standards and many types of NFC tags.


Let’s simplify things. For the app Shortcut, you can just buy tags ” NTAG “, which is not a standard NFC, but the name of the integrated circuit in the majority of the tags are not dear, that you find on the internet. For the purposes of this article, I ordered on Amazon this lot of 55 NFC tags stickers that cost me twenty euros, and it works perfectly. If you prefer, you can also buy tags that take the form of payment cards or to visit, for example this batch of 10 for €10.


A part of the 55 stickers NFC that I have ordered for this test. In transparency, you see the printed circuit board of the NFC chip. Once glued on an opaque surface, they are totally white.

The format sticker is especially interesting for home automation and all the uses to which I thought in writing this article. They are relatively discreet, especially if your walls and doors are painted in white. And if not, they can often be positioned out of sight, under a desk, for example.


In terms of positioning, the only requirement is to avoid the metal. Some NFC tags are suited to metal, but they are considerably more expensive than the ones I’ve taken (12 € approximately for 10 tags). Attention, therefore, to the feet of the desk, to the door handles, gold lamps in metal : if you paste a label on it, the signal NFC will be totally blocked and the iPhone can get nothing to do.


Configure an automation based on a NFC tag


These limits are set, let’s move on to the practice. It’s all done in the app Shortcuts, in the section ” Automation “. Add a new one with the + in the top right, then choose the first option to create a automation personal.


Tap the + button in the top right of the section dedicated to the automation of the app Shortcuts (left), and choose an automation personal (right).

In the long list of triggers proposed by Apple, choose the option for ” NFC “in the” Settings “. If you do not see the option, that is certainly that your iPhone is not compatible.


Use the NFC in the list of triggers (left) and you will see the screen specific to this option (right).

You will then need to scan the NFC tag for the first time, in order for the app Shortcuts to get sti’s unique id and knows what to do with. Tap the button “Scanner” to the NFC reader is activated, and bring the iPhone to the tag in question. This is the top of the smartphone, which should be close to the tag. If all goes well, the app will ask you for a name and this means that the tag has been correctly identified.


Do not take this step lightly, because this is the only way to identify year NFC tag. If, like me, you have purchased stickers white completely identical, I recommend that you paste prior to the NFC tag to its final lease, and then identify in the app and name it. If you get everything ready before, you will end up with a series of stickers and white good luck to then identify them and paste them in the right place…


Procedure of scan of the NFC tag in the app (left). Shortcuts application a name to identify each tag (right).

You can then compose your shortcut, with all of the shares of app at your disposal. You can use the action Execute my shortcut to use a shortcut already created, or add actions by hand, and it is as you feel. I will give you in the following part some examples, but don’t feel you have to make it complicated, especially in the beginning. A shortcut may very well be composed of a single action, this is not a problem.


When you have assembled the necessary actions for your automation, there remains a last step to a seamless experience. On the confirmation panel, uncheck the option “Ask before running” to the shortcut that launches automatically when the NFC tag is scanned by the iPhone. You are not obligated to do so, order without unchecking this option, you will have to validate each run via the notification displayed on the screen of the iPhone.


When you have assembled your automation (left), you will see a summary screen (center) with the possibility to uncheck the confirmation before execution (right).

It should be noted that iOS 13 will always display a notification and it will remain in the notification center as long as you don’t remove it yourself. This is the default behavior and the only one you can have for the moment, Apple has not provided the option to do this. If you use a lot of the NFC tag, your notification center will quickly fill up… but at least the system only keeps one alert by tag.


Once everything is properly configured, you can use the automation. Place the top of the iPhone near the tag, to a maximum of a centimetre or so, and the actions of the shortcut will be executed in the aftermath. Here’s what it looks to control a lamp :


Automation NFC, here with a tag pasted under the square of the lamp. You are not required to “drag” the iPhone to the level of the tag as I’ve done here for the video.

To avoid errors, the iPhone must be active. As long As the display is turned off, the NFC reader is turned off, both for safety and to save battery power. The terminal does not need to be unlocked, but the screen must be turned on for the scan to be properly identified and that the automation is triggered behind.


The scan is very fast if you position the iPhone correctly in relation to the tag. If you’re really going too fast, you can miss the scan, and that is why I have often been in the habit of slipping the smartphone at the level of the tag. But in fact, placing the device in the right place, it really is now, or not far.


Some examples of automation based on the NFC


Finally, if you are wondering what good the NFC tags in the context of the automation, here are a few examples.


Turn on and off a lamp


I have placed several NFC tags to manage my devices in home automation. The video above was an example : a tag discreetly placed in a lamp, associated with a shortcut that will turn on or off this lamp and the other two.


This NFC tag hidden in the lamp allows me to control devices, HomeKit.

The shortcut is very simple, but it leverages the new integration of HomeKit in Shortcuts. Action If used to determine if the lamp is switched on or off when the NFC tag is scanned. Depending on the case, an action Command Home (where Home is the name of your home HomeKit) is used to turn on and another to turn off the lamps.


I have taken this same principle with a tag placed on the door of my office, to manage all the lights in the room. I already had a switch HomeKit, which was doing the job, but I didn’t have access to all of the shares of Shortcuts in this way (also read : The logic of Shortcuts improves the switches HomeKit with iOS 13). The NFC tag allows me to run a shortcut to full, which activates a scene rather than another according to, not only time, but also the sunset and sunrise. Basically, if it is night, a scene ambient is enabled ; in the middle of the day, all the lights come on.


As a further example, I placed a tag under the shelf of my night table for more discretion. When I turn the iPhone, it changes the brightness of a bulb connected. If it is below 20 %, his base level, he grows to be 60 % ; otherwise, it returns to the starting level. I use it when I want to read a book in bed and it is quite handy to have just to pass the iPhone close to the tag.


Last example to finish off, I connected the speakers in the office to a socket connected. They are extinct in general, but when I want to activate it, I turn on the outlet. I placed year NFC tag on the side plastic to perform this task.


This NFC tag positioned on the side of the speakers will turn on or off the socket connected on which they are connected.

I would like to use these tags home automation, but as I said earlier, accounting is restricted prevents me from doing so. Switches and physical assistants voice have not said their last word.


Add an item to the shopping list


In a completely different genre, I have placed year NFC tag on the litter box of our cat. I mapped it to a shortcut is very simple, which adds an element of “Litter” in the shopping list stored in the Reminders app. This list is shared in the couple, so that even if I am the only one using the tag, we take advantage of both.


Adding an item to a shopping list stored in the Reminders app, via an NFC tag.

The principle could be applied to any other product that you must buy from time to time, but not regularly. One can imagine year NFC tag on the washing machine, to note to buy lye, or another on the coffee machine, so you don’t forget to spend at Nespresso. In any case, if you want to use the Reminders app, you only need an action to Add a new reminder. You will be able to choose from a list and even set year alert if you want.


And don’t forget that you have all the power of Shortcuts behind you. You can simply shortcuts simple, consisting of only one action, or create shortcuts complex. To stay on the example of the shopping list, you might provide a menu selection to add an item gold another during the scan of a tag.


Connect the iPhone to a Bluetooth headset


If you have a Bluetooth headset with a NFC chip, you can use it to facilitate the connection of the iPhone to the helmet. Before you create the automation, connect the headset to the terminal. In the app Shortcuts, scan the NFC tag of the helmet, and then add the action Set the destination for playback and select the headset.


Now, you will be able to reproduce the experience of NFC on Android. Turn on the headset and bring the iPhone to its NFC chip to connect it and select it for playback in stride.


When the iPhone detects the NFC tag of the helmet, the automation is triggered and selects it as the destination for reading.

Naturally, this will also work with Bluetooth speakers, if they are equipped with NFC. And you could very well stick a label on or next to an Apple TV gold has HomePod, to choose it as destination reading.


Open an app


I placed NFC chips on some of the physical devices associated with apps, to open the past without having to search on my iPhone. For example, I stuck one on the bridge connection to IKEA, to the app Home Smart constructor that opens directly on the smartphone. I also have one on the Raspberry Pi which I use for Homebridge, and it allows me to open the app Home without the wait.


Opening the app for home automation IKEA by scanning year NFC tag placed on the bridge connection.

The idea of associating a physical object to an app is interesting for all the devices connected to it, necessarily. Purpose one can imagine other uses : I glued a tag on one of my Wi-Fi Velop to open the app Linksys. In quite another field, a NFC tag in the kitchen would open an app for recipes, another one, a real alarm clock that opens the app that you now use in the morning to wake you up…


Launch a music album or a movie


If you still have a CD collection, or DVD and Blu-Ray, but that you have everything digitized, you can still use the physical objects to start playback of the corresponding works. Paste a label discreetly on the case gold slip it in the middle of a booklet, and set year automation that allows you to launch the playback.


By scanning the NFC tag discreetly placed behind the cover, the automation opens the file of the movie in the app Netflix.

For music, you can use the actions provided by Shortcuts to search for an album, or a playlist on your iPhone or Apple Music. If you have a HomePod, or other speaker with AirPlay, remember to drag the action Set destination read on for a better experience.


For movies, you will at minimum enable the Apple TV and launch the TV app, but not directly the movie you want to see. If the work is available on Netflix, you can use the action to Open the URL with the link netflix to the movie and the app will open directly. Provided you have pre-selected the Apple TV as the destination of reading, it will start playback on your iPhone to enjoy it on the big screen. If you use Plex, there is also a solution based on deep links, to use also with the action to Open the URL.


Open his Tesla


To finish off, this is not an example that I was able to put in place, but a good idea to exploit the NFC chips. If you have a Tesla, or other car is also connected to a Tesla, you can install NFC tags on the two boxes (front and rear) and even on the hatch that protects the electrical outlet and open the openings by placing the iPhone near. This is the iOS app from the manufacturer that offers shortcuts Siri to do it, and you can repeat these actions in the app Shortcuts. Clever !



Other ideas ?


I have given you some tracks to exploit the NFC with your iPhone in iOS 13, but I don’t necessarily thought of all the boxes. Hence this question to conclude this article : have you developed automation solutions based on NFC tags ? And if yes, what are they used for ?


Please do not hesitate to bear witness in the comments to help all those who are looking for new ideas, me the first.



To learn more about the app Shortcuts, our book to know All about Shortcuts is always on sale for 12,99 €. It will be updated free of charge to integrate new features in iOS 13, and in particular, the automation personal NFC referred to in this article.



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