Apple’s more recent MacBooks include Thunderbolt 3, Thunderbolt 4 or USB-C ports – which are all compatible with USB-C connectors. Identify the ports on your Mac. The readers below are ideally suited for use with MacBooks.
If you need a smartcard reader for a USB-A port, see our related post on the Best Smartcard Readers for Mac / iMac with USB-A 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 MacBook doesn’t recognise a smartcard reader when it’s plugged in, drivers must be downloaded from the reader manufacture 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 MacBook – 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 on Apple.com.
The CCID readers below are ideal for MacBooks Pro/Air with Thunderbolt 3/4 or USB-C ports, and the manufacturers provide downloadable drivers for Mac OS.
ACS ACR39U-NF fold-away CCID smartcard reader – USB-C
Drivers: PC/SC Driver Installer for Mac OS X from ACS for ACR39U-NF
ACS ACR39U-UF desktop CCID smartcard reader – USB-C
Drivers: PC/SC Driver Installer for Mac OS X from ACS for ACR39U-UF
Best Smartcard readers for Apple MacBook – 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.
Currently there aren’t so many readers that support the most common RFID and NFC standards and come with a USB-C connector, however Bluetooth connectivity provides a flexible alternative:
ACS ACR1255U contactless high frequency reader – Bluetooth
13.56MHz contactless smartcard reader is designed to support on-the-go smartcard and NFC applications. Featuring Bluetooth Smart connectivity (Bluetooth Low Energy), this extremely portable reader includes a rechargeable Lithium-ion battery and is ideal for use with most Bluetooth-enabled devices including smartphones and tablets.
Note: Battery charging requires the use of the USB Mini-B connector provided with the reader, so a suitable adapter is required. The ACR1255U supports ISO 14443 Type A and B smartcards, as well as MIFARE, FeliCa, and most ISO 18092 compliant NFC tags and devices.
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).