Apple Insider has uncovered an Apple patent that refers to near field communication (NFC).
While the patent isn’t specifically related to an existing product, it could mean we’re going to see NFC capabilities in a forthcoming iPad or iPad mini.
So what is NFC? It allows data to be transferred with a tap, and it can be used to send information between devices or from a ‘tag’ to a device. Similar technology is used in the Oyster cards used on London’s transport network. NFC arguably hasn’t taken off in a big way, much like QR codes, but it’s still a useful addition to a mobile device, and it’s something Apple hasn’t seemed keen to add so far.
The Apple patent was lodged with the US Patent and Trademark Office, and it seems to suggest that Apple’s thinking of using NFC to sync data between devices. This is the same tech we’ve seen on Samsung phones in the past. But even though Apple is keen to keep pace with Samsung, it’s a surprise that NFC has cropped up now.
In iOS 7, Apple is still relying on other syncing methods, such as wifi. It will expand the capabilities of AirDrop to the iPhone and iPad, so files can be transferred wirelessly via wifi or Bluetooth without the need to email them to another user. And at the iOS 7 keynote last month, Craig Federighi made a scathing reference to NFC, saying AirDrop does away with the need to ‘bump phones’.
Perhaps Apple has had second thoughts. AirDrop is very handy (and it also exists on OS X, which is doubly useful), but it’s an Apple-only transfer method, and users could potentially use NFC to get their device to ‘talk’ to other manufacturers’ devices. More tellingly, NFC could also help Apple to roll out new payment services, where a phone exchanges data with a payment terminal in a store.
You can read the Apple patent document now; it’s massive, just to warn you, but it shows some intriguing mockups that describe how NFC would work on an iOS tablet or phone.