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Apple patent hints at NFC future


by on December 21st, 2012

If you are reading this, then it is fair to say that one of the more celebrated predictions for 2012 – namely, that Armageddon would put in an appearance while we’re all busy with today’s breakfast cereal – has not come to pass.

This tells us a number of things, not least that long range forecasting – to quote the sage Medawar once again – “may be comically wrong”. It is also a useful case study for anyone wishing to distinguish between expectation (“I expect the iPhone 5 to contain an NFC chipset”) and prediction (“I predict fire, brimstone and the apocalypse at breakfast time in precisely two thousand years”).

Anyway, assuming that, between now and my finishing this article the Mayan prophecy does not come to pass (otherwise, my final emotion on this planet would be one of immense sheepishness for having naysayed it), I would like to draw you attention to a patent published yesterday by the US Patent and Trademark Office. The patent, “Integrated Coupon Storage, Discovery and Redemption System”, was filed by Apple, and details an application which – a la Passbook – provides a repository for mobile coupons. But it goes beyond Passbook in enabling their redemption, viz:

“The coupon can be redeemed by presenting the mobile device to a store clerk to enter the barcode into the business device, or in some embodiments wherein the mobile device is also a payment device using near-field communication technology, the coupon can be automatically presented for redemption.”

The italics are mine. We know that Apple has been looking NFC for some time now, hence the case study of the expectation above; we also know that that expectation was unfulfilled. But it is clearly keen on engaging in the proximity payments space: the only questions are precisely how and when.

It could well be, for instance, that Apple regards NFC more or less as it did 3G five years ago: a nice-to-have but not a priority, because the supporting infrastructure is still being deployed: hence the absence of 3G technology in the first iteration of the iPhone. Likewise, there is the strong possibility that it wanted to enable its users to become more accustomed to the iPhone as a coupon storage depot through Passbook before introducing the payment mechanism: teach ‘em to walk before they run.

Clearly, as I outlined in my previous blog, Apple’s decision not to include an NFC chipset in the iPhone 5 represented a severe setback for the technology, in terms of retailer/brand confidence and consumer awareness.

But, as I was equally anxious to stress, for NFC, the decision was not the end of the world.

Sorry, Mayans.

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