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Apple’s NFC plans: are mobile payments set to go mainstream?

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Apple’s NFC plans: are mobile payments set to go mainstream?

NFC, near field communication, is nothing new. But the tech used for mobile payment solutions, turning your phone into a virtual wallet, has grabbed headlines today after Apple appointed Benjamin Vigier as its new product manager for mobile commerce.

Vigier arrives at Cupertino with a pedigree in NFC, having overseen the creation of PayPal Mobile and help develop mobile payment solutions for Starbucks, as well as working with a top US bank on its mobile app.

The appointment has helped fuel talk that the next generation of the iPhone will come with NFC tech built in. This follows patents, unearthed earlier this year, which suggested that the flagship phone would be getting some NFC love at some point in the future. Obviously, it didn’t arrive on the iPhone 4, but it could be a winner for the iPhone 5 whenever it launches.

iphone 4

It wouldn’t be the first time that a mobile phone has come with NFC built in. O2’s Wallet trial, held in London on 2008, loaded up a basic Nokia clamshell with the tech, letting users pay for goods up to £10 using contactless payment machines in newsagents, as well as travel on the underground using the NFC chip as an Oyster card.

The pilot scheme was widely seen as a success, but since then Nokia’s trials have remained just that and NFC has failed to go truly mainstream. Of course, NFC is already popular with banks and credit card companies, with Barclaycard and Visa sticking the tech into their plastic so you can pay for your sarnies without sticking your PIN into a card reader. But mobile payments are undoubtedly the future.

Aside from your door keys, your phone and wallet are the only essential going out items and combining them makes sense. And surely if any company can take an idea which has already been fleshed out in the tech world and push it into the wider sphere, it’s Apple. By launching an iPhone with NFC, it could allow credit card companies to create dedicated apps for paying for big-ticket items, as well as priming the phone itself for swiping through payments for cheap must-haves.

nfc trial

And then there’s the chance for Londoners to use it as an Oyster card. Surely this would prove popular, if a little dodgy by whipping out a phone worth £500 every time you get on the bus or hop on the Tube. If NFC does make it to the iPhone, Apple will of course take credit for it, much in the same way it seems to think that before FaceTime, video calling didn’t exist.

But that’s to overlook the fact that Apple’s powerful position could push the tech over from hardcore obsession of bloggers and tech watchers into something more meaningful and futuristic. If any phone can blaze a trail with NFC, then surely the iPhone is it. Whether Vigier and co can make it happen, however, is another matter.

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