The rumor mill always starts turning ahead of an Apple event, and it was no different in the lead in to the company’s Worldwide Developer Conference (WWDC) this week. Among the rumors again this year, was the anticipated opening up of the NFC chip’s capabilities to enable additional services to use the short-range communication protocol.
Anyone who has followed Apple’s work with NFC will have heard this before, so while it’s nice to hear Apple discuss NFC, we were naturally skeptical of what would be on show at WWDC. Still, we watched in anticipation that this year’s Developer Conference would provide some long awaited news regarding NFC and the student ID card. We got a glimpse.
The student ID card officially made its appearance on the Apple stage in the watchOS portion of the keynote. Apple Technology VP, Kevin Lynch, announced that this coming fall the student ID card will soon be available to add to iPhone and Apple Watch for access and payments on campus. The integration will enable students to add their campus card to the Wallet app on iPhone or Apple Watch to support access to places like dorms or libraries, as well as support payments at locations across the campus.
Lynch went on to reveal that the initiative will launch this fall. According to Apple documentation, “the program launches with Duke, the University of Alabama and the University of Oklahoma this fall. Johns Hopkins University, Santa Clara University and Temple University will bring the capability by the end of the year.”
While the prospect of iPhones and Apple Watches being used as credentials on college campuses is certainly exciting, there is also a trend in the early adopter campuses. Though Blackboard wasn’t mentioned by name in the keynote, each of the flagship campuses listed on stage is a Blackboard Transact client and the company has now confirmed its role alongside Apple in bringing this technology to the campus card industry.
When reached, Blackboard indicated additional details will follow, but responded with the following:
“We’re excited to confirm that we’re working with Apple to help bring the ability to add student ID cards to Apple Wallet. Beginning this fall, students, faculty and staff will have the opportunity to seamlessly access facilities and make payments at locations on and around campus with the iPhone and Apple Watch. This capability offers students and the broader campus community heightened security and extraordinary convenience, taking advantage of compatible terminal/reader devices from Blackboard.”
The long and winding road
Apple’s brief acknowledgement of student ID card being used with its flagship hardware is a bit of a watershed moment for not only Blackboard, but for the campus card industry as a whole.
Blackboard has been pushing campuses to NFC since it shipped its first NFC-capable readers in 2010. Since then hundreds of campuses have deployed tens of thousands of the company’s NFC readers for access control, attended and unattended payments and privilege control. To date, the credential they have used has been the NFC compliant contactless card, but both the company and its campus clients have always looked to the day when they could also use the mobile phone as a student ID credential.
The challenge until now has been that only Android phones have offered support for this feature via the handset’s embedded NFC chip. Apple added NFC to the iPhone 6 in 2014, but restricted its use to only to its own, proprietary Apple Pay service and then later to limited tag reading functions. Until this announcement, using NFC on the iPhone in “card emulation” mode – that is, to act like an ID card in campus card systems – was prohibited.
As we in the campus card market understand better than perhaps any other market, multi- application is crucial. Modern students demand that their campus credentials support the full range of transactions across the campus, from door access to vending and privilege tracking to dining hall entry and payments. Today’s keynote was an important step in the right direction.
Immediately following the WWDC event, Apple added a review of the major announcements online. Under a header “Student ID Cards. Major Campus Access” Apple describes the upcoming feature: “Access the dorm, gym, library, campus events, you name it. Just add your student ID card to Wallet. Then hold your Apple Watch near the reader. You can also pay for snacks, laundry, and dinners around campus with just your watch.”
The universities highlighted on stage at WWDC have been hard at work with the technology for some time now. They, along with countless other peer institutions across the country deployed NFC-capable readers believing this day would come. And while additional details will emerge in the coming weeks and months detailing how this service will work in the wild, today’s announcement offers the first validation of this strategy.