Many expected it. Some are cross that it hasn't been included. But it could be that Apple is not being a dullard by swerving around NFC this time. It may have a different plan. By I.D. Scales.
Now we know Apple has played it safe with the iPhone 5.
"Now I am (nearly) six, / I'm as clever as clever. / So I think I'll be six / now for ever and ever." (Christopher Robin via AA Milne).
Having won its court victory in the US against Samsung's 'copying' of the iPhone it would be strange indeed if Apple decided on a design swerve, and it hasn't, electing instead to keep the iPhone in water-treading mode with the '5' with a few minor changes to its outward appearance and some restrained tinkering and speed-boosting with its innards - mostly, it's claimed, to make it thinner and a smidgeon taller.
But this calorie-counting is also said to be partly behind one of the surprise omissions - NFC (near field communications). It was promised for this year and hasn't appeared - at least for the time being.
NFC is thought by many to be the missing piece in the M2M mobile money puzzle and it's felt that the evolving multi-player business model behind mobile wallet services will finally gel when NFC is deployed widely.
Obviously there is a chicken and an egg problem here. In most markets NFC payment services and terminals are only patchily (if at all) available although overall growth is steady from a low base.
But general NFC support on smartphones in expectation of services is one way to get the ball rolling and with both Google and MicroNok (with the Lumia launch) in support, it had been anticipated by many that Apple would this year jump on the NFC bandwagon and support it too with the iPhone 5 (and the iPad), thus paving the way for cashless payments/mobile wallet services.
But Apple either has a different view or a different plan.
Clearly, initial support for NFC by Apple would have been an act of long-term faith in the idea, rather than something that would bring it any meaningful device demand in the short term and it's that lack of immediate benefit that appears to have ruled NFC out. That and the risks.
It's often pointed out that Apple is fixated on the user experience and tends to come late with innovation, especially on the hardware side.
It (or rather Jobs) hated things going wrong (remember the furore over the old 'death grip' iPhone which kept losing its signal?) and so tends to hang back until technologies are mature and unlikely to fall over. He was very late with 3G for the iPhone instance.
Apple appears to have overcome its technophobia when it comes to LTE this time out, but claims that NFC is not yet mature enough. This is being thought strange by many NFC observers and experts as the technology itself is very mature. What's not mature is the money application/service. Mobile wallet, which will be implemented differently all over the world by different organisations, is - from a paranoid Jobsian view of the world - very immature and not controllable from Cupertino.
As mobile wallet is certain to go wrong now and then and, as this is money we're talking about, is bound to get the victims highly angry and even more highly litigious when it does, Apple has applied a corporate 'what would Steve do?' test and steered clear of NFC for the time being.
Is there a different plan?
There may be. Mobile payments will indeed grow this year, but not necessarily via NFC - there are other ways to enable the transactions from a phone, such as SMS or via bar or QR codes.
So some observers suggest that Apple may be holding back on NFC support because it can see a better avenue for enabling mobile transactions via its Passport feature in iOS 6.
According to Keith Brown, Managing Director of paythru, "what is more interesting [than NFC] is the launch of [Apple's] new Passbook service using QR codes for purchases and storing loyalty cards and coupons on the same device, since the ability to scan barcodes that are displayed on the phone’s screen is already widespread and this could really take the industry forward. Using QR codes allows for much more available and secure payments.
"Apple is biding its time at the moment with NFC, but I think they will be the winners in the long run as they are obviously looking at solutions in the meantime such as Passbook and the acquisition of biometric security, that will make mobile payments ubiquitous and secure."
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