Apple’s 2014 roadmap was laid out in pretty considerable detail by KGI Securities analyst Ming-Chi Kuo earlier this week in an investor note, and while ordinarily analyst predictions aren’t worth the paper they’re printed on, Kuo has a solid track record of actually getting things right. Among Kuo’s predictions are larger iPhones, a Retina MacBook Air, improved Apple TV, iPad with Touch ID and iWatch launch later this year. But one small detail could have more potential impact than all the rest: NFC inclusion in iWatch and iPhone devices.
Apple has never thought much of NFC, at least when it comes to its own devices, and has avoided building the communication tech into its gadgets for years while the Android competition turned it into a device default. NFC had a lot of early buzz, but for the most part, its usefulness for the average person comes in its ability to act as a handshake tech to ease the process of Bluetooth pairing. It still has some utility as a mobile payments transfer tech, but even with mobile payment options built into Android phones that support it, it hasn’t taken off in that regard.
If Apple starts building NFC into its devices, as Kuo reports it will, that could all change. While Apple now offers iBeacons Bluetooth LE-based tech, which could replicate the payment functions of NFC, support for the other tech would mean broad compatibility with existing hardware that more and more merchants have now been adopting with their in-store point-of-sale systems. Both types of tech are early, but NFC has the virtue of more time to find its feet.
As Finextra notes, the WSJ reported earlier this year that Apple was looking to develop a mobile wallet for iPhone, using the existing iTunes accounts the company already uses for purchases within its own software and retail store ecosystem. That would give Apple an instant network of over 600 million users with credit card information on file, making it likely the largest mobile payments network of any kind without even trying. And with NFC, Touch ID could be used to authenticate those payments, or even to authenticate identify for store loyalty or other purposes, too.
Apple has previously patented tech related to NFC and mobile payments, and Apple CEO Tim Cook mentioned that payments was part of what drove the inspiration behind creating Touch ID, the fingerprint-based authentication tech on the iPhone 5s. Touch ID is reportedly coming to iPad Air 2 in 2014, as well, which expands the pool of potential payments applicability even further. Apple may have seemed disdainful of NFC in the past, but it has a habit of waiting on new and emerging tech until it becomes genuinely useful to a large swath of consumers, and NFC could be just about at that point, and a key route to Apple’s domination of the mobile payments space.