An ACR39U reading a card onto a laptop

USB-C Smartcard Readers

With the USB-C connector now appearing on many desktops and laptops as well as on mobile devices, there is growing demand for add-ons such as smartcard readers to be USB-C compatible. Although this can easily be achieved using a small adapter to convert a traditional (type A) USB cable to USB-C, laptop and mobile users will particularly appreciate having a smartcard reader that connects directly into the new style of universal USB port.

Hong-Kong based manufacturer ACS have launched both desktop and highly portable folding USB-C smartcard readers – the ACR39U-UF and ACR39U-NF and Identiv, who pioneered the idea of folding readers, also now offer the SCR3500-C, which has a short flexible cable rather than an integrated connector. All of these work without a hitch on desktops and laptops equipped with USB-C.

The use of USB-C also helps to unify the use of smartcard readers on mobile phones and tablets, via USB ‘On The Go’ (OTG). The OTG concept allows mobile devices that were previously regarded purely as USB clients, such as phones, to also act as a USB host, with external accessories attached. This is what enables most mobile phones to recognise a peripheral such as a keyboard or mouse, when plugged into their USB port.

Some care must be taken when considering the use of USB On The Go, because the phone or tablet must be able to provide enough power to the external device, and cannot usually be charged at the same time. In the case of smartcard readers, it is also usually necessary to ensure that the underlying operating system supports the CCID and PC/SC Lite interface and API standards, and that the software being used also ‘understands’ how to talk to the chosen card and reader. Unfortunately, support for smartcards on Android and iOS does not yet extend universally to standard apps such as web browsers or email clients, so it is usually the case that smartcard-aware solutions must be installed.

Nevertheless, more and more mobile apps are being published that know how to communicate with smartcards and smartcard readers, while Windows continues to provide widespread support and a large ecosystem of smartcard-aware applications and solutions, ranging from native PKI smartcard domain logon (see our article on smartcard-based logon) to universal RFID, contactless and NFC card reading (see our popular Read-a-Card packages).

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