With features like Passbook already announced, Apple seems set to add near-field communication (NFC) to the iPhone. But how far can Apple go to sell NFC like no one has sold it before?
When Apple launches something new, it loves to bang the gong. Its focus is on refinement, but it sells new features like it just kicked off a revolution. Right now, I get that feeling with the next iPhone and the introduction of NFC. If Apple is as "Apple" as we expect it to be (whichever way you take that), it would aim for nothing less than making people think that it's like nothing we've ever seen. And in this case, it will probably be right.
Not for Australians. Yet.
Let's face it: NFC is something we've all been excited about for a few years now. But year after year, we've watched it never quite get off the launch pad. Right now, we have a range of Android devices on the market that include NFC, but the promise of simple swipe payments has yet to be fulfilled. In a perfect world, our phone will replace our wallet, and all kinds of check-in, purchase and ticketing functions will be accessed with a tap of our smartphone.
Google has stalled the launch of Google Wallet for Australia. This bottleneck to NFC's promised land on Android has brought open frustration from the Commonwealth Bank, and has seen Westpac looking to devise a SIM-based security technology for NFC to sidestep Google's hold over Android security systems.
So what could Apple do to wow us with NFC? Apart from some slick advertising that shows people living an emotionally fulfilled lifestyle through their revolutionary new smartphone? A genuine launch with banking partners on day one would be a big step on its own. But it would need to go beyond banking to give it that real "Apple" launch factor.
Passbook in iOS 6
Apple has already announced Passbook for iOS 6, which is an obvious focus for NFC integration. In Passbook's on-stage demo at its Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) 2012, Passbook covered everything from sports ticketing to gift cards to flight boarding passes to loyalty cards. It integrates location awareness to offer the right cards, coupons or tickets based on where you are. Plus, it would inform you of flight delays or gate changes to keep you up to date — a dynamic ticketing feature that would give real value over a piece of printed paper. Adding NFC tap-and-go features to all of this would enhance the concept greatly.
Then just imagine if Apple cut its own deal with Visa or MasterCard to let us all use iTunes credit to pay for anything, anywhere, anytime. Tap at any PayPass facility to charge anything to your iTunes account? Suddenly, it really is a frictionless transition. No extras required, no changes to bank arrangements, no changes to anything. Just switch on that new phone you've purchased. Apple instantly becomes your key virtual currency partner. All of those discount iTunes gift card offers suddenly become a discount on cash.
So if Apple can go all the way with NFC and make it a seamless feature that "just works" when you buy the new iPhone, it could spark the revolution that the technology has been waiting for.
It's also quite possible Apple that won't even use the term "NFC". That word will be tucked away on the spec list, while Apple simply uses "Passbook" as its branding for the iPhone's virtual wallet technology. It does like to make things its own.
Here in Australia, we can only hope that whatever it launches as, Apple launches it here as quickly as it launches in the US. I wouldn't hold my breath on that point. We may well find that we're in the same boat we find ourselves in with Google's Android delays now, but with much more fanfare to highlight exactly what we're missing out on.