(Credit: Apple)Consumers may soon be able to pay for items on the go directly through their iPhones or iPads. Apple is reportedly working to outfit the next generation of its smartphone and tablet with near-field communications (NFC) technology, which would let consumers use the devices to make mobile payments as an alternative to cash and credit cards, according to a story today by the Bloomberg news service. Richard Doherty, director of the technology consulting firm Envisioneering Group, told Bloomberg that both the iPhone 5 from AT&;T and the iPad 2 would likely include NFC chips, citing engineers working on the project.
NFC technology lets devices exchange information over a short distance--no more than four inches. As such, a mobile device equipped with NFC could send payment information from a bank account to a register or terminal, allowing people to use them to pay for items and services at stores, restaurants, and other types of retail outlets.
Apple has apparently been eyeing NFC for for some time. Last summer, the company hired an expert in NFC to join its mobile commerce team at the same time it reportedly was already testing the inclusion of the technology in its next iPhone.
Beyond the benefits to consumers, companies like Apple stand to gain from NFC, notes Bloomberg. Like any business that accepts credit cards, Apple currently pays processing fees on every iTunes purchase made through a credit card. By letting people pay for iTunes content on their iPhones via NFC, Apple could cut out the Visa or MasterCard middleman and trim its own expenses. For tech users, the new technology could also help them more easily transfer and share files and settings between their NFC-equipped smartphones and other devices, such as PCs.
Other players have also gotten into the act. Last November, AT&T Mobility, Verizon Wireless, and T-Mobile announced the creation of a new mobile payments network that would use NFC. Google soon followed up that up with the launch of its Nexus S Android phone packing an embedded NFC chip and with support for the technology in Android 2.3, aka Gingerbread.
On its end, Apple is currently looking into launching a mobile payment service as early as the middle of this year, Doherty told Bloomberg.