You can already pay for coffee at Starbucks with your iPhone. However, a growing chorus of speculation indicates that the mothership has bigger plans afoot, which could include a play for the whopping $6-plus trillion Americans spend online and at retail.
According to Bloomberg, the hottest new feature in this year’s iPhone 5 and iPad 2 — near field communication (NFC) — might not generate headlines, but could change the way consumers and companies do business. Using this technology, iPhone and iPad owners could pay for products and services simply by waving the devices in front of scanner.
“It would make a lot of sense for Apple to include NFC functionality in its products,” said Richard Crone, Crone Consulting.
Whereas you can already pay at Starbucks with your iPhone via an app, NFC is a hardware-based solution that’s more convenient, only requiring users to wave their idevice in front of a scanner.
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The allure for retailers and payment intermediaries, such as Visa, Mastercard and PayPal, is immediate and palpable. For example, these companies could track consumers inside a store using NFC and GPS, showing browsing habits, as well as which displays and marketing collateral are most effective in drawing buyer attention.
“NFC is definitely one of the technologies that’s getting a lot of attention, but ultimately the consumer is going to choose,” said Charlotte Hill, spokeswoman, PayPal.
For her part, Elvira Swanson, spokeswoman Visa, said the company is “excited to see NFC mobile devices coming into the market.”
Whether or not NFC will actually make the cut for the iPhone 5 and iPad 2 is still an open question. However, last year Apple did hire Benjamin Vigier, who worked on the technology at mobile-payment provider MFoundry, which also has applied for a patent on a system that uses NFC to share information between apps running on various Apple devices.
Thereupon, perhaps NFC is more a question of when rather than if.
Are you ready to use NFC?