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Apple's About to Kick Mobile Payments Into High Gear

Apple's About to Kick Mobile Payments Into High Gear

Apple may be the only company in the U.S. that is capable of pushing NFC into mainstream consciousness any time soon. First, Apple has millions of customers who trust it with their credit cards connected to iTunes. Those customers also have a tendency to be more likely to spend -- all of which gives retail organizations a reason to invest in new equipment to take and process NFC payments.

By Chris Maxcer
08/29/14 5:00 AM PT

Rumor has it that when Apple reveals its much-hyped iPhone 6 on Sept. 9, one of the features it will be trumpeting -- finally -- is near field communication.

The NFC tech will enable mobile payments, Wired reported, citing sources "familiar with the matter."

Wow.

If this is true, it could be the catalyst that propels mobile payments into the mainstream. Right now, NFC features are commonly included on Android and Windows smartphones, but its usage is nowhere near common.

Putting It Together

Apple has remained quiet about the whole idea of mobile payments, which is another way of saying it's been working furiously on it behind the scenes in the dark corners of its Cupertino headquarters.

It has filed several patents for using NFC and Bluetooth to make secure "iWallet" payments, as well as several location-awareness types of patents that can be used for advertising or location-based coupons.

Of course, Apple started down this path when it announced iBeacon, which uses Bluetooth to communicate with iPhones in Apple Stores -- as well as other retail locations around the world.

Plus, there's TouchID, which requires a fingerprint to unlock an iPhone. It could be used for additional sorts of secure payment processes.

Clearly something is going on here, and Wired seems confident that we'll get a taste come Sept. 9.

Not So Fast

The big problem with anonymous sources who are "familiar with the matter," when it comes to Apple, is that the vast majority of these sources usually are not particularly familiar with the matter. Based on all the rumors that have been close, but still not even 80 percent accurate, the odds favor sources who has some knowledge of what Apple is up to -- but probably not intimate familiarity. More likely, the sources are making some connective leaps of faith.

What if this is more about using NFC to connect to the also-rumored iWatch? What if the NFC activity is more about connecting with home automation products as part of Apple's upcoming HomeKit initiative? What if the "payment" is more about using the iPhone and iWatch as a receiver of coupons or rewards that can be trotted over to a checkout stand and presented for 20 percent off?

Not so cool, really.

The Apple Glow

But... if Wired's anonymous sources are correct in that we're talking about real mobile payments -- connected, for example, to the hundreds of millions of active credit cards attached to Apple's iTunes accounts -- then this is a very big deal.

Why? Because Apple is behind it. Before the haters stroke out, it's undeniable that Apple has the all the muscle, incentives, corporate trust and marketing power to be the catalyst that finally gets people thinking about smartphones as true wallet replacements. That's huge.

In fact, Apple may be the only company in the U.S. that is capable of pushing NFC into mainstream consciousness any time soon.

First, Apple has millions of customers who trust it with their credit cards connected to iTunes. Those customers also have a tendency to be more likely to spend -- all of which gives retail organizations a reason to invest in new equipment to take and process NFC payments.

In addition, Apple has the marketing muscle and online mindshare to drive the conversation toward paying with a smartphone. I don't see Square changing the world any time soon. Nor do I see Google making TV ads about Google Wallet. Apple will make TV ads that show how cool NFC can be -- and it won't be two dudes tapping their phones together to share a song.


TechNewsWorld columnist Chris Maxcer has been writing about the tech industry since the birth of the email newsletter, and he still remembers the clacking Mac keyboards from high school -- Apple's seed-planting strategy at work. While he enjoys elegant gear and sublime tech, there's something to be said for turning it all off -- or most of it -- to go outside. To catch him, take a "firstnamelastname" guess at WickedCoolBite.com. You can also connect with him on Google+.


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