Apple Mac and iMac systems come with a range of connection ports, commonly including the USB-A interface widely used by desktop smartcard readers – Identify the ports on your Mac.
If you’re looking for a smartcard reader for MacBooks – see our related post on the Best Smartcard Readers for Apple MacBooks with Thunderbolt 3, Thunderbolt 4 or USB-C ports.
Note – it’s important to understand that smartcard readers conforming to common industry standards (such as PC/SC1 & CCID2) will not make the information read from a smartcard visible natively in macOS (or any other OS). OS X and various different applications handle data from smartcards for specific purposes, so it’s the individual application that defines what kind of information the card needs to provide, the card technology used, and consequently the required reader compatibility.
Smartcard reader drivers for macOS
If your Mac doesn’t recognise a smartcard reader when it’s plugged in, drivers must be downloaded from the reader manufacturer and installed.
Installing drivers is the same as installing any other software on OS X. Download the software to your hard drive. If it is a zip file, unzip the file. If it is a disk image, open the disk image. If it has an installer, run the installer. If it doesn’t have an installer, drag the file to the applications folder.
Best Smartcard readers for Apple Mac – Contact Card Readers
Smartcards with physical chip contacts are commonly used for security and authentication applications. The CCID (Chip Card Interface Device) USB protocol allows a smartcard to be connected to a computer via a card reader using a standard USB interface.
Since macOS 10.15 (Catalina) native support for PIV (Personal Identity Verification) smartcards, together with USB CCID class-compliant readers, has been included. PIV is an open standard used by commercial and government organisations for two-factor authentication, digital signing and encryption – more detail at Apple.com.
By default, when an initialised (not blank) PIV smartcard is inserted into a card reader attached to a macOS machine the user is prompted to “pair” the card with their account. ‘Local Account Pairing’ allows the card to be used to log in to the user’s account. It’s also possible to configure usage of the card with a directory service, and switch to the screen-saver automatically when a user removes their card. However, using the card with other application or websites does not require the card to be paired with the user’s Apple account – more detail at Apple.com.
The CCID readers below are ideal for Mac / iMac with USB-A ports, and the manufacturers provide downloadable drivers for macOS if required.
Best Smartcard readers for Apple Mac – RFID/NFC Card/Tag Readers
There is much greater variation in the extent to which standards are supported by contactless card readers, therefore is it even more important that reader compatibility is checked with the specific application.
There are a variety of readers suitable for Macs with USB-A ports that support the most common RFID and NFC standards:
HID Omnikey 5023 CL contactless high frequency reader – USB-A
13.56MHz contactless smartcard reader that works with a wide range of card types including iClass Seos, iClass SE, iClass, MIFARE Classic and MIFARE DESFireDrivers: Recent versions of Mac OS X include native support for this reader.
Identiv uTrust 3700F contactless high frequency reader – USB-A
13.56MHz contactless reader for ISO 14443 cards and ISO 18092 NFC tags or NFC-enabled smart phones.
ACS ACR1252U contactless high frequency reader – USB-A
13.56MHz contactless smartcard reader that supports ISO 14443 type A and B cards, MIFARE, FeliCa, and ISO 18092–compliant NFC cards and tags. Replacing the popular ACR122U.
HID Omnikey 5025 CL contactless low frequency reader – USB-A
125kHz USB contactless smartcard reader that works with low frequency physical access control cards such as HID Prox.
If you need further help or advice with choosing the right smartcard reader for your requirements contact Smartcard Focus.
1 PC/SC (Personal Computer/Smart Card) is the most widely implemented standard for the integration of USB smartcard readers with computers – a version of this is bundled into OS X.
2 CCID (chip card interface device) protocol is a USB protocol that allows a smartcard to be connected to a computer via a card reader. Native support for USB CCID class-compliant readers has been included in OS X from version 10.15 (Catalina).