New patent makes a compelling case for NFC on the iPhone 5

New patent makes a compelling case for NFC on the iPhone 5

Summary: Apple's new patent for the iTravel app, when combined with iOS 6's Passcode feature means that it makes sense for the iPhone 5 to have NFC.


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.

Topics: iPhone, Android, Apple, Apps, Hardware, Mobility, Smartphones

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  • Let's Get It Over With

    Okay - let the posts begin: this patent is so obvious the USPO shouldn't have granted it to Apple; Android had this exact same feature years ago, Apple doesn't innovate, blah blah blah!
    • They're patenting NFC communication in a certain place

      It'd be like someone patenting USB connections in a restaurant or wi-fi in a hotel. You really can't defend this.
      • iPhone 6/new iPhone does not need NFC; iPhone 4S already has Bluetooth 4.0

        Which is super low consuming protocol.
      • It Is Rather Comical

        I do find it rather comical that since patents are supposed to be based on, in the vernacular, 'how something works,' this is now being interpreted as defining basic instructions for user operation rather than any new technology being involved. Want a new patent? Just define a set of instructions for using existing technology for this thing or that thing that someone hasn't used it for yet. That's not what patents were supposed to be about.

        Patents were supposed to be about being the first person to figure out how to do something that usually was already known to be desirable. They weren't supposed to be about being the first person to think of doing something using known technology.

        People have this odd thinking these days that just being the first to do or think of doing something has some kind of inherent value, even if that something was easy. Patents are supposed to be about being clever, not just being first.
      • I don't recall seeing this 4 years ago

        So it was filed in 2008 and got granted recently, was checking using a mobile/tablet over NFC there in 2008? Certainly wasn't in Europe
    • Flagged!!!

      Wow - some Apple hater who needs a life actually flagged my post - lmao!
    • Iniquitous patents

      Totally agree (assuming no irony intended) with jamboy34.
      This kind of abuse of the patent system does not just "prevent(..) other companies from claiming the patent"; it creates a barrier to small companies that might fear infringement. Such companies do not have millions to spend on lawyers and are effectively being bullied out of the market.
  • Since when

    Did Apple make mobile internet, video chat and apps mainstream ?

    Mobile internet was alive and well way before the iphone suddenly occured, video chat of course has been made mainstream with Skype, which even today is the defacto standard, (there is hardly anoybody that uses facetime), apps are simply appications, something that isn't Apple's doing either.

    By the way, WP8 right off the bat contains a host of NFC goodies, but of course that should be ignored right ?
    • ...

      OK I'll bite, before the iPhone, how many phone users actually surfed the internet through their phones? Remember the author never said Apple invented it, he said Apple made it mainstream and not "for geeks only". While video chats on computers were already prevalent, mobile video chats never really took off until facetime and the app ecosystem became mainstream. And as for the apps system, wherein you buy and install apps in your phone? Surely even your Apple hatred will admit that without the iPhone and iTunes the word App wont even exist. You'd still be forced to buy new phones just to get the latest stuff.

      And all this NFC goodies, what exactly do they have that consumers would actually want? Geeks don't count.
      • What do they have that consumers would want?

        This is a pretty bad question to ask. What did the original PCs have that consumers would want? absolutely nothing. However, "geeks" picked up on it, and eventually they became more mainstream and more uses were developed. New technologies always need early adopters, and this usually falls to the "geeks" when talking about things like this.
      • P.S.

        Well come to think of it, you still need to buy new phones just to get the latest Android ... :) Of course you can always download ROMS that says if you brick your phone, its your fault!
        • Relevant how?

          How is this relevant beyond trolling? And you're no more at risk bricking your phone when installing a new ROM than you are when jailbreaking an iphone. It is very hard to brick any phone to an unrecoverable state at this point in time.
      • Geeks

        Were using mobile internet years before the iphone, and yes even non geeks were using mobile internet before the iphone. Nokia (the by far biggest mobile phone manufacturer pre iphone) had numerous mobile phones that had mobile internet, in fact the best selling Nokia's all had it years before the iphone, so no, mobile internet was already mainstream before the iphone came to market, which is exactly why I posted my remarks.

        That same Nokia had a central apps repository before the iphone, as did all major Linux distros.

        As said before, alsmost nobody uses facetime, it cannot stand in the shadow of Skype, which everyone but my cat uses !
      • Need for NFC

        NFC is exactly what consumers need for secure transactions. The point is that NFC is very short range and therefore a lot less prone to interference and eavesdropping than high power wireless devices. NFC may not catch on because it could be that better encryption technology will obviate the need. It remains to be seen.
      • You're either too young or too apple

        to remember the dark ages before the iphone. I had a £300 phone bill to prove mobile internet was already alive and well, that was over 10yrs ago. Similarly, I was using apps on the SPV handset I had where other people wrote apps and then sold them in a convenient place altogether - afterwards this became the app store that Apple invented (later in history). And facetime, seriously, who actually uses that on a regular basis? Mainstream? I think not.
        Ultimately this is the worst trait of apple, somehow convincing people that history began firstly with the ipod (you know it was the first mp3 player /sarc), then it began again with the iphone and then tablets were invented with the ipad. I'm with sjaak327 on this one, AKH did himself a real injustice with that statement but then again, how else does he get paid when the rest of the article is slating his sponsors.
        Little Old Man
  • Yet another proof of the stupidity of . .

    "software patents".