With mobile-payment systems and services expected to surge this year to include more than three million users in the U.S., Apple appears eager to jump into the field. The computer giant has filed numerous patents involving Near Field Communication (NFC) in the last few months related to systems for buying airline or concert tickets, making payments to vendors, and transferring media from computers to iPhones and iPods.
A patent would also create iPay, iBuy and iCoupons, Apple's own currency for products.
New iPayment Guru
In keeping with Apple's long-standing policy of keeping mum about upcoming products until they are ready to launch, it's saying little about its mobile-payments strategy. But the recent hiring of a leading NFC guru, Benjamin Vigier, suggests Apple is planning to make mobile payments a key feature of its next iPhone.
A site that covers NFC technology reported that Vigier will be Apple's product manager for mobile commerce. Vigier has been working with NFC since 2004 and worked for mFoundry, managing the PayPal Mobile service and Starbucks' bar code-based mobile payments service; for mobile-phone networks; and a bank, Near Field Communications World reported.
NFC is a short-range, high-frequency technology that enables the contactless exchange of data between devices that are within about four inches of each other, allowing a chip inside or a sticker on a phone or credit card to complete transactions with scanners in stores, ticket counters, and other venues.
A June study by Gartner estimated that the number of people using mobile payments will soar 54.5 percent from 70.2 million in 2009 to 108.6 million people worldwide. It also expects that 2.1 percent of all mobile users will adopt payments.
But the adoption rate is far slower in North America, where mobile-payment usage is expected to grow from 1.9 million users last year to 3.5 million this year. In Asia and the Pacific, the rate is expected to grow from more than 41 million users to more than 62 million, according to Gartner.
"We all know that smartphones are going to be used for buying things, and with NFC, it makes the idea of a 'mobile wallet' a reality," said Gerry Purdy of MobilTrax. " You simply select the debit/credit account you want to use and then swipe it at the NFC terminal."
Purdy said that at this stage, Apple, like all other concerned vendors, is trying to figure out the most profitable business plan to exploit NFC.
"Apple would likely create a system that would only work within the Apple world, however," Purdy added, noting that other partners will need to be involved. "You put the NFC chip on the back of a phone, but in order to get the mobile wallet to work, you need NFC inside and also software from folks like VivoTech."