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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