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8/27/2012
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iPhone 5's 'One More Thing': NFC?

Of all the features rumored to be in the iPhone 5, near-field communications steals the show for its potential to bring mobile payments to the masses.

The iPhone 1.0 Anniversary Quiz
The iPhone 1.0 Anniversary Quiz
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Making retail purchases with your smartphone already is a reality, but it still has a few hurdles to clear. The iPhone 5 could be the device that ties all the loose ends and brings mobile payments to the masses.

Bits and pieces of what could be the next-generation iPhone continue to appear around the Internet. The most recent photo of purported iPhone 5 components includes an unknown chip that some believe to support near-field communications.

The photo shows an assembly of parts, but with an addition not seen in previous photos of the same assembly. AppleInsider reported, "The square component covered by EMI shielding is in line with the dimensions of currently available NFC packages like NXP's 5 millimeter-by-5 millimeter solution."

There's no way to confirm what the component is for, but it's not a stretch to assume NFC. NFC already has made its way into many of today's smartphones, such as the Nexus S, Galaxy Nexus, Galaxy S III, and a wide range of BlackBerrys. So far, these devices have used the NFC functions for easy Bluetooth pairing, and sharing files, contact information, or both.

[ Read Will Mobile Electronic Wallets Replace Leather Wallets? ]

Only the Nexus S and Galaxy Nexus have full integration with Google Wallet. These two phones, when set up with credit or debit cards, can be used at select retail locations to make tap-and-go payments.

If the tech is already available--and it has been for more than a year--what exactly could Apple contribute?

Critical mass.

Mobile payment solutions are varied, fractioned, and far from standardized. As noted, Google offers Google Wallet, which works with several Android devices. Companies such as Starbucks and Home Depot are offering their own mobile payment apps, as is PayPal. Then there's ISIS, the carrier-led mobile payment conglomerate backed by Visa that has yet to get off the ground.

Apple was able to woo music labels and movie studios to join iTunes and is now the largest purveyor of music. It's possible that Apple could do the same with the financial institutions and retailers needed to give mobile payments the catalyst necessary to really take off. Add NFC to the iPhone 5, which analysts believe will sell as many as 200 million units, and you have the recipe needed to push NFC into prime time. It doesn't hurt that Apple has already added a virtual ticket organizer to iOS 6, called Passbook.

The seeds have clearly been sown.

Apple is widely expected to debut the iPhone 5 on September 12, which would then go on sale from AT&T and Verizon Wireless as soon as September 21.

A separate event for the iPad Mini is expected to take place in October.

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ANON1237925156805
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ANON1237925156805,
User Rank: Apprentice
8/30/2012 | 8:00:39 PM
re: iPhone 5's 'One More Thing': NFC?

@ Andrew, whatever one thinks of the recent Samsung trial, it's not an apt comparison here. One can quibble around the edges but on the whole it's fair to say that Apple consolidated lots of ideas, innovated others and created a game changing smartphone that others have directly and indirectly imitated ever since. There's a legitimate question whether some of the imitated features were truly patentable inventions but that's for another day.

Point is that this situation is not at all the same. NFC wasn't designed or invented by Google or RIM nor will device makers be able to define its standards. The chips are purchased from outside vendors and financial processing will be done in cooperation with outside institutions.

Presumably Samsung and RIM have applied a look and feel to the limited range of NFC functions they currently support. There's no reason to believe that Apple will clone their look and feel. If they do imitate some non-obvious elements then there will be something to talk about on that front..

A better comparison would be adding a quad four processor or a faster graphics card or bluetooth capabilities to a device. There's always a first adopter and bragging rights go with that.

No question that Apple wasn't the first to include an NFC chip in a smartphone. The question is why and the answer is that they apparently didn't see enough real-world usage on the immediate horizon to warrant it. I can't say they were wrong. Paid by swiping your phone anywhere, anyone? NFC has been a great idea for several years.

Things are shifting though. We've all been hearing the same rumbles. PayPal, Starbucks, Square. Apple only releases one product upgrade per year and by next year they may have missed the wave. So now's the time, they reckon. They make their connector smaller (necessary to make more space within the device but boo!). They reconfigure and in goes an NFC chip. (or not.)

Which means what? Well it could be the tipping point because there are more iPhones out there than there are any other single devices. The current version of iOS is the least fragmented environment in town, for now. If Apple can bring the players together and do a deal with them yes it'll be a difference maker. Even absent Mr. Jobs, don't discount that possibility. . .

Andrew Hornback
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Andrew Hornback,
User Rank: Apprentice
8/28/2012 | 1:45:06 AM
re: iPhone 5's 'One More Thing': NFC?
So, Apple's playing catch up to Samsung (really?) and RIM (woah, /really/ ?) - isn't that somewhat ironic given the events of the past week, with regards to Samsung?

How much more technology can you cram into something that's going to fit in the average person's hands? True, you might look at a Nexus tablet and think it's a handheld... for Shaq, but for the average person, no.

And finally, how does one properly secure NFC or is this a technology simply waiting for wide-spread acceptance and then wide-spread exploitation?

Andrew Hornback
InformationWeek Contributor
JoeyM
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JoeyM,
User Rank: Apprentice
8/27/2012 | 7:38:53 PM
re: iPhone 5's 'One More Thing': NFC?
Maybe this is just the response of a cynical Android user, but: weG«÷ve had NFC for two years, shouldnG«÷t a G«£One More Thing,G«• be something innovative? Okay, seriously though, if it is NFC, great. But how would Apple NFC that would make it take off? My coworkers at Dish have been talking about this. I think the focus has to be high speed data and a larger screen. I commute in by train, and I use Dish Online to make the commute go faster. I can stream a ton of movies and TV from Dish Online free through my browser. The speculation paints a very specific device which I donG«÷t feel will be significantly better than the Samsung Galaxy S III. The S III coincidently already has NFC.
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