While near-field communication (NFC) technology is a common feature on many Android smartphones, it has yet to take off in any meaningful way or make its debut appearance on the iPhone.
However, its absence on the iPhone shouldn't be taken as an indication that Apple isn't interested in NFC technology. Apple has just been granted a patent for an app called iTravel that makes use of NFC to facilitate transportation check-ins.
The patent abstract describes iTravel as "a method and system for transportation check-in (e.g.:, ticketing and identification) via near field communication (NFC) using a handheld electronic device, such as a cellular phone or a personal media player".
This patent was initially filed back in September 2008.
On its own, iTravel doesn't mean anything. After all, a company like Apple has a vast collection of patents that it does nothing but prevents other companies from claiming the patent. However, if we combine this with what we know of the upcoming iOS 6 release, then it could be an indication that NFC could be coming to the iPhone.
I'm talking here specifically about Passbook, a new app that takes your boarding passes, movie tickets, retail coupons, loyalty cards, and more are now all in one place. Passbook allows you to ditch the physical cards and tickets and instead scan your iPhone or iPod touch to check in for a flight, get into a movie, and redeem a coupon.
While Passbook is interesting, when combined with technology such as iTravel it becomes a whole lot more interesting. It eliminates the hassle of having to dig out the iPhone, search through it for the right card or ticket and then scan the screen. While NFC on its own has been a solution looking for a problem to solve, Apple's way of leveraging technology with through apps suddenly makes it relevant.
If Apple manages to take NFC and make it usable in the mainstream -- much like it did with mobile Internet, video chat and apps -- then that is not only good news for Apple but also a whole host of other companies. Apple has the power to put an NFC into the hands of millions of consumers and this would have a positive knock-on effect not only on companies that make NFC readers, but only on a whole host of industries, ranging from transportation to leisure.
If Apple gets NFC in smartphones right -- something that Google hasn't managed to do with Android -- then it could be the biggest thing to hit smartphones since apps, and the industry as a whole needs to be ready to take advantage of the opportunities it will present.