Contactless student ID cards coming to iPhone, Apple Watch

Apple on Monday took the wraps off of its next-generation operating systems for iPhone and Apple Watch, which will include support for NFC-based student identification cards, granting access to secure classrooms and handling meal payments.

The addition of student ID cards to Apple Wallet will arrive later this fall with the release of iOS 12 for iPhone and watchOS 5 for Apple Watch. The feature was announced as part of Apple’s annual Worldwide Developers Conference in San Jose.

When the feature launches this fall, six schools will participate in the digital ID program: The University of Alabama, Duke, Johns Hopkins University, The University of Oklahoma, Santa Clara University, and Temple University.

“With contactless student ID cards in Wallet, you can use your iPhone or Apple Watch anywhere student ID cards are used on and off campus,” Apple’s official description reads. “Simply hold your device near the reader to access places like your dorm, the library, and campus events. Or pay for laundry, snacks, and dinners around campus.”

The capabilities leverage the near-field communications chips Apple includes in all modern iPhone and Apple Watch models. NFC support originally launched with Apple Pay contactless payments, but support has since been expanded to developers and third-party apps.

By partnering with schools, Apple is hoping to increase adoption of those NFC-based capabilities in its digital Wallet app, offering both payments and secure building access in one place.

A recent poll conducted by OWI Labs found that 61 percent of respondents in the U.S. would be comfortable having their primary form of identification — their driver’s license — in a digital form. States around the country are pushing to offer digital driver’s licenses, with Iowa on track to be the first to offer statewide support beginning next year.

OWI Insight: Student ID cards are a critical part of campus life, making this a smart play for Apple to encourage adoption of its digital Wallet app. The next step, of course, would be digital ID cards in the form of driver’s licenses and passports. However, given Apple’s “walled garden” approach, it seems unlikely that its Wallet app would be at the forefront of digital driver’s licenses, as state governments would not want to alienate those on Android devices. Instead, we see Apple’s approach giving it inroads into the physical identity and access management (PIAM) space, allowing iPhones and Apple Watches to replace secure building access cards for apartments, offices, shared workspaces, and other facilities that require security with convenience. For more, see OWI’s overview of the IAM landscape in our Market Trends Report for April of 2018.