Google has enthusiastically embraced near-field communications technology in its Android devices, but Apple has thus far kept its iOS devices free from NFC. Recent acquisitions and sales, however, suggest Apple could be preparing to add contact-less technology to iDevices.
In July, Apple agreed to acquire security technology company AuthenTec for $356 million. (AuthenTec is a leading supplier of smart sensors, identity management software and hardware, and embedded security devices, such as fingerprint readers.) But the sale of its Embedded Security Solutions division -- to NFC and contact-less chip provider Inside Security, for $48 million -- suggets that the company's sensors and identity management offerings were the true attraction.
A little background: AuthenTec's Embedded Security Solutions division was responsible for designing and developing a range of embedded security solutions, and offering content protection, security toolkit and semiconductor IP. Its products are used in millions of mobile and networking products by businesses and consumers. Customers include Alcatel-Lucent, Cisco, HBO, LG, Motorola, Nokia, Samsung, and Texas Instruments.
As for its other divisions, the company last year collaborated with NXP Semiconductors and mobile payment software firm DeviceFidelity to bring support for NFC mobile payments and transportation check-ins to Android smartphones.
How could Apple bake fingerprint and NFC technology into future products? There are a few possibilities.
iOS 6 features a new app called Passbook which allows you to store your boarding passes, movie tickets, retail coupons, loyalty cards, and more 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.
Though Passbook is interesting on its own, when combined with NFC technology it becomes much more compelling. It eliminates the hassle of having to dig out the iPhone, search for the right card or ticket and then scan the screen. To date, NFC has been a solution looking for a problem to solve. Apple's way of leveraging technology through apps could give it relevance.
AuthenTec currently counts a number of Apple competitors as customers, including Samsung Electronics, LG, and Motorola.