updated 08:40 pm EST, Tue March 6, 2012
Apple patent would have iTunes-based NFC wallet
A newly granted USPTO patent has lent credence to notions that Apple is looking to implement NFC in iOS. The technique describes a way to define how a payment is made when an iPhone with an NFC chip is brought up to a terminal to pay. It would set rules for the deal, such as payment limits, requiring permission for specific vendors in their online and offline modes, and adding restrictions for buying alcohol or other kinds of goods.
If someone broke the rules, it could at a minimum turn down the deal but also let the account holder know, preventing a thief from casually making purchases without the owner getting notice.
Along with describing how the rules would work, the system takes care to describe interaction through iTunes. A section of the desktop app would let users see statements as well as configure thresholds for themselves in advance, such as warnings if the device gets close to a spending limit.
A patent isn't necessarily a guarantee Apple will implement the technology in a shipping product. Apple is known to speculatively patent technology only to leave it alone. The company has been exploring multiple NFC patents, however, and MasterCard has made unusual statements about supporting every mobile platform with NFC, implying that it might be talking to Apple.
NFC mobile payments are active in the US, but they're currently limited to just two Nexus-branded phones and MasterCard's system. NFC won't ramp up until Isis Mobile Wallet is active in mid-year or else if Google can get Wallet support on other devices. Apple may have to support either or both, but its patent would let it establish an iTunes-based mobile payment wallet that would give iOS users a full NFC ecosystem.