NFC rumors for iPhone 5 return, this time from Forbes

by Phil Hornshaw

The Apple (AAPL) rumor mill never cooperates with me. Feels like I just got done reporting on rumors from a story in the UK paper The Independent that suggested Apple was foregoing adding near field communication capabilities to the iPhone 5, and suddenly, here we are with rumors to the opposite.

We first heard about the iPhone 5 picking up near field communication technology -- which, like Bluetooth, broadcasts a short-range signal that can allow smart phones to be used to pay for transactions or to interact with advertisements -- from Bloomberg, way back before the iPad 2 was announced. Those rumors said the technology would appear in both devices, and the iPad 2 reveal has come and gone with no NFC to speak of. The iPhone 5, expected around June, could still have the technology, but The Independent suggests Apple is waiting to see how it turns out.

The rumor from earlier this week stated that Apple was stepping back from the NFC game until the iPhone 6, expected in 2012, because there’s no clear standard for NFC implementation among merchants. Without a single technology, presumably, Apple would have trouble designing NFC hardware into the iPhone model perhaps, or find itself butting up against other problems. But that hasn’t slowed down Google (GOOG), which has worked NFC into its Android smart phone operating system in its Android 2.3 Honeycomb update. The Google Nexus S is already capable of NFC transactions.

So it seemed, not unreasonably given its track record, that Apple was holding back to see how the technology panned out. But now Forbes’ Elizabeth Woyke has reversed that rumor, saying that NFC for the iPhone 5 is back on, according to an unnamed source citing another unnamed source.

Woyke says she has spoken with an entrepreneur who is currently working in the NFC field on a “top-secret” project, who has a friend at Apple who also suggests NFC is in the works for the next iPhone. Her entrepreneur source believes NFC will hit the iPhone 5, and apparently, he’s not the only one. Here’s a quote from Woyke’s column:

“To further bolster his statement, the entrepreneur said that manufacturers of NFC readers – whom he has been talking to for his own product – also expect the iPhone 5 to have NFC. These manufacturers are gearing up for the additional NFC traffic the iPhone 5 will bring, likely this summer, said the entrepreneur.”

So, in classic Apple rumor style we know, well, absolutely nothing. Either decision from Apple would make sense, although the apparent worry about a lack of an industry standard seems to be a little thin when companies like Verifone (PAY), a maker of quick-pay terminals for merchants, are already embracing NFC technology.

What we do know for sure: when the iPhone 5 is released, Apple CEO Steve Jobs will either sing the praises of near field communication in the new device and tell us how wonderful, convenient and futuristic it is (we’ll be entering the “post-plastic world,” perhaps?); or, he’ll call it dumb and make fun of Google for implementing it. The rest is up in the air until June.