Apple was granted a patent on Tuesday by the United States Patent and Trademark Office for a Near Field Communications (NFC)-enabled travel management application, furthering speculation that the company is readying mobile payment technology for future versions of its iPhone product.
The Web site Macrumors.com reports that Apple was granted a patent for a service, “iTravel” that would make use of NFC technology. The service could also help travelers mitigate some perils of air travel via their smartphone, such as paying for checked luggage, confirming reservations or checking in at the airport by allowing phones to access travelers’ information, including their photograph, fingerprint or retinal scan, to verify identities.
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NFC technology is a wireless technology that uses an embedded chip to enable two-way communication. Users can tap their devices at specialized kiosks to transfer information and remotely pay for goods and services.
The news about the new NFC-related patent raises questions about how aggressively Apple will move into the fast-evolving mobile payments space. A recent report that the Cupertino giant was letting other smart phone developers test the mobile payments waters first before developing its own technology. The Wall Street Journal last week reported that, despite trailing Google with its Google Wallet application and Microsoft with its digital wallet service, Apple was electing to take it slow, apparently deterred by security concerns.
“Apple employees patented some NFC ideas but worried about whether the technology was secure enough,” according to the WSJ piece, published late last week.
Although the technology has been widely adopted by Google and now Microsoft, one Apple employee claims the company’s chief financial officer Peter Oppenheimer wondered whether there was an alternative to NFC, or a “newer secure technology that employed the Internet,” according to the article.
While Apple has kept mum on its plans when it comes to mobile payments, a company’s announcement at last month’s Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) perpetuated that.
During the conference, Apple claimed the next iteration of its mobile operating system, iOS 6, would boast a new feature, Passbook, that can store users’ movie tickets, plane tickets and gift cards. Unlike Google and Microsoft’s e-wallets however, there was no mention of being able to link Passbook to credit cards or debit cards.
Thirty three percent of U.S. consumers have already made a payment by their mobile phone according to a survey conducted by analytics firm IDC Financial Insights this week. That number is more than double the amount of mobile payment adopters from last year. Additional research from Gartner this week anticipates the mobile payment market will exceed $600 billion globally by 2016, almost four times the $172 billion that was spent this year — a statistic that likely factors in Apple’s emerging interest in the field.