Apple engineers ‘heavy into’ near-field communication for iPhone 5, rumor says

by Phil Hornshaw

Near-field communication seems poised to be the next major technology to sweep the smartphone market. Already there are smartphones running Google’s Android operating system that contain the technology, and we recently heard about a chip embedded in a smartphone case that brings the capability to any current iPhone.

But with the iPhone 5, you might not need an external chip hidden in a smartphone case. Rumor has it, Apple is working hard on bringing NFC to the next iPhone, expected to drop this summer.

A little background for the unfamiliar: near-field communication is a short-range broadcast technology that would allow your smartphone to interact with other devices when you hold them close together. The major use for the tech right now is for completing transactions in brick-and-mortar stores: imagine inputting all your credit card information (as well as loyalty cards and anything else relevant to the store you’re in) into your phone, then just waving it in front of a terminal at a store. Many stores already include Pay Pass terminals, which include the same tech, and the credit card “wallet” system describes the Google Wallet system the company announced last year.

According to a story from 9to5Mac, an unidentified high-ranking app developer told the site at Macworld that Apple’s engineers are hard at work on NFC technology, presumably to work it into the iPhone 5 – and that he was confident enough to bet app development on it. That make sense in a lot of ways, given that NFC seems ready to break out, with merchants embracing the technology (or similar, smartphone-related payment methods), terminals readily available and mobile payment methods provided by credit card companies, Google and others.

Apple usually likes to wait for a technology to be mature and reliable before implementing it, as well as make sense for its users. NFC makes sense under those criteria, especially given the move among many smartphone owners to make use of their phones to pay for things. Already, Starbucks stores are seeing heavy use of the company’s mobile app, which allows users to use the screens of their iPhones in place of a Starbucks card; scanning the barcode on the screen can be used to pay for the transaction in-store. PayPal is currently testing a similar app-driven system in Home Depot stores.

There are still hurdles to be worked out for NFC payment programs, though. Apple will likely find a partner (as 9to5Mac reports, Pay Pass seems likely) for its service, but it’ll also need the cooperation of its carriers. Over in the Google camp, Verizon has blocked Google Wallet in favor of ISIS, its own NFC wallet tech. So though the beginning of the NFC road could be waiting for iOS users in June, how long it’ll be before we’re swiping our smartphones to pay for groceries isn’t yet clear.