The next iPhone could let users buy products and share files through near field communication (NFC).
Code pulled from pre-engineering verification testing (Pre-EVT) iPhone 5,1 and iPhone 5,2 prototypes by 9to5Mac has led the Apple enthusiast site to believe that NFC chips and an antenna will be built into this year's iPhone.
If true, it means that Apple would finally jump onto the mobile payments bandwagon, allowing its users to purchase goods and services directly through their smartphones. This latest rumour also comes on top of the company's launch of Passbook, a feature slated for iOS 6 that would let people store electronic versions of receipts, tickets, boarding passes and other information from merchants.
On its own, Passbook doesn't necessarily need to depend on NFC, as it serves more as a repository. But Jim Peters, chief technology officer of air transport technology company SITA, believes Apple will incorporate NFC into Passbook, maybe not at first, but certainly down the road.
"There is a lot of debate that NFC will never take off because of all the arguments," Peters told 9to5Mac. "But you need to get ready; this is coming. This is going to happen. By the end of the year the majority of smartphones that you go and buy will have NFC on them. If in October the next iPhone comes out and it has NFC on it, it's game over."
Apple could also hook up with an existing mobile payment service like CitiBank's PayPass, or even handle payments on its own through all the credit cards already stored through iTunes, 9to5Mac suggested.
NFC has been touted for its ability to enable mobile payments, merely by swiping your smartphone past a merchant's NFC-equipped reader. But the technology potentially offers much more. iPhone owners would be able to swap and share files between different devices, reducing the need to synchronise through iTunes.
Apple has reportedly been working on NFC integration for a while.
A New York Times story from March 2011 confirmed that a future iPhone would include the NFC hardware. Some rumours at the time speculated that last year's iPhone would be NFC-enabled, but, obviously, those rumours missed the mark.
NFC is still struggling to move beyond its first baby steps. Google has already been playing in this sandbox. Certain Android phones already come equipped with the NFC hardware, and the search giant has been pushing its Google Wallet service in the US. Locally, Commonwealth Bank uses NFC on the iPhone via its iCarte hardware and Kaching app. So, the time seems ripe for Apple to finally enter this nascent market, a development that could give NFC the push it needs to enter the mainstream.