There have been rumors for over two years now that the iPhone would be getting near-field communication (NFC) technology. Back in 2010 many expected it to be included with the iPhone 4. When that didn't happen, they thought it would come with the iPhone 4S (back when it was expected to be called the iPhone 5). That, of course, didn't happen either. Now, though, it looks like the new iPhone really might, at long last, getting NFC.
According to 9to5Mac, references found in hardware code dumps strongly suggest that the new iPhone will have NFC chips built in. If true, this has massive implications both for the mobile payment market, and for Apple's announcement regarding iOS 6. During the iOS 6 section of their WWDC 2012 keynote two weeks ago, Apple showed off Passbook. Passbook is a new app designed to provide users with easy access to things like boarding passes, movie tickets, rewards cards, coupons, and so on. The version of Passbook we saw at WWDC relied on bar codes and QR codes for scanning such things. With NFC, though, actually scanning the code wouldn't be necessary.
What's more, with NFC integration, Passbook could very easily become a mobile payment app as well. Though Apple has said they aren't planning to get into the mobile payment space, the fact is that in a way they already are. They've already got millions of credit cards on file thanks to the iTunes store. With NFC built into the iPhone, Passbook could simply charge purchases to your iTunes store account. In fact, they've already implemented something very like this with the Apple Store app. You can pay for Apple Store purchases just by putting in your iTunes password while you're in the store.
While this is all still just a rumor, it's growing increasingly more likely. If Apple really is bringing NFC and mobile payment to the iPhone, they'll be pretty much the last major mobile platform to do so. Android users have been able to use Google Wallet to make payments with their NFC-capable phones for several months now, and Microsoft unveiled NFC support for Windows Phone 8 last week. While Apple has been known to forego certain kinds of features their competitors include, putting NFC in the iPhone is potentially very lucrative for them. It's not likely that they'll let the iPhone be left behind in this area for another year.
There's an interesting question raised by NFC on the iPhone: will we see a Google Wallet iOS app? After all, Google doesn't appear quite ready to relinquish Google Maps's presence on the iPhone. Will they allow Apple to be the only game in town when it comes to mobile payments on the iPhone? The odds are that they won't. I contacted Google to get their thoughts on the matter, but they haven't yet replied.