Apple Unveils Digital Wallet for Next Mobile OS; No Word on NFC Yet
In what could be the first step by Apple toward launching a full mobile wallet, Apple today unveiled Passbook, an application built into its next mobile operating system, iOS 6, which the company introduced at its Worldwide Developers Conference.
Apple said Passbook would store boarding passes, movie tickets, retail coupons, loyalty cards and more, including store cards.
Besides putting these passes, coupons and cards conveniently into one place, the application will use geolocation to pull up the proper card or pass when the consumer is in the relevant venue.
“Wake your iPhone or iPod touch, and passes appear on your lock screen at the appropriate time and place–like when you reach the airport or walk into the store to redeem your gift card or coupon,” said Apple. “And if your gate changes after you’ve checked in for your flight, Passbook will even alert you to make sure you’re not relaxing in the wrong terminal.”
Most of the cards, passes and tickets in the Passbook demo screens Apple showed at the conference and on its Web site today use 2-D bar codes, including those from a Starbucks mobile-payment app and a United Airlines boarding pass.
Scott Forstall, senior vice president of iPhone software at Apple, who introduced the features of the iOS 6 including Passbook, did not mention NFC during his keynote at the conference.
But since Apple was not introducing its next iPhone today, a device expected to be unveiled in the fall, it’s not surprising there was no mention of NFC, said online commentator Brian Roemmele, writing on Quora, who describes himself as a 28-year payments industry veteran.
Although it’s too early to tell whether the next iPhone will support NFC, some, such as Roemmele, believe it will. And the Passbook application introduced today shows Apple is planning to work with other service providers to enable payment, among other mobile-commerce applications.
“Thus, it is just a matter of time before we see the payment card integration of Passbook, with a slight name change in the future,” Roemmele predicted. “At this point, Apple will have no desire to replace Visa and MasterCard but to become a conduit for these existing services. Apple’s own iTunes accounts will be available for retail purchases at the Apple store, however there is little chance that iTunes will ever become a retail payment system.”
But penetration of contactless point-of-sale terminals remains less than 5% in the U.S. That is expected to grow substantially as more merchants change their point-of-sale terminals to meet mandates by the major payment schemes to support more secure EMV cards. Many are expected to support contactless at the same time.
That will take at least a couple of years to roll out, however. So if Apple were to support NFC in its next iPhone targeting payments, there would be relatively few places for consumers to tap their NFC-enabled iPhones to pay in the U.S.
On the other hand, Apple could decide to include an NFC chip in its next iPhone not mainly for payments but to make it easier for users to share content among their Apple devices. Content sharing among Apple devices is a priority for the company, observers have pointed out.
But that would mean Apple would have to include NFC in not only the iPhone but in other devices. There is no indication yet that it is preparing to do so, despite the company’s numerous patents or patent requests involving NFC.
UPDATE: Einar Rosenberg, NFC evangelist and veteran iPhone watcher, said it’s still too early to tell whether Apple will support NFC in its next iPhone.
“Unfortunately, the new SDK (software development kit), like prior ones, will not show all the capabilities of the new hardware until the new hardware is out,” Rosenberg, head of U.S.-based NFC application provider Narian Technologies, told NFC Times. “We may see aspects of NFC in the documents, we may not.”
He added that another snub by Apple of NFC would leave it further behind competing smartphone and tablet suppliers with the technology.
“By October, you’ll have all the major players offering NFC phones, including HTC, Samsung, Nokia, RIM, LG, etc.,” he said. “And you’ll have four out of the five top phone OSs offering NFC, including Android, BlackBerry, Windows and bada; not to mention, by then, we’ll see the introduction of Windows 8 tablets into the market with NFC standard in them all, and a few Android tablets with NFC, too.” END UPDATE.
Apple has yet to act on any of its pending or awarded NFC patents with a product launch and, as usual, Apple is not tipping its hand early on features of its next devices.
The iOS 6 will be available in the fall and is expected to be used on the new iPhone. It will be compatible with all past iPhone models starting with the 3GS. The fourth-generation iPod touch, iPad 2 and next iPad will also support the new operating system version.