Apple could be making plans for a big role in mobile Near Field Communications (NFC) with the recent hiring of Benjamin Vigier as its product manager of mobile commerce.
Future iPhones and other Apple devices could be converted to mobile wallets, allowing users to quickly pass or tap a phone over a receiver using the NFC short-range wireless specification.
Nokia has made inroads in NFC, but is not considered a strong mobile phone competitor in the U.S.
"Apple could finally bring NFC to the masses," wrote NFC expert Bob Egan, global head of research for Tower Group, in a tweet Monday, regarding the hiring of Vigier.
Egan noted too that Apple is a "magical marketing powerhouse" with a large patent portfolio and widespread distribution alliances that would help Vigier and Apple.
Part of Egan's optimism is based on Vigier's strong resume, as detailed on LinkedIn.
Neither Vigier nor Apple could be reached for comment on his role at the company. Vigier arrived at Apple in July, and previously was product manager for mobile wallet, payment and NFC at mFoundry, where he conceived and managed the Starbucks mobile payment system on the iPhone and Paypal Mobile, which is featured on the BlackBerry and some other phones.
Computerworld blogger Jonny Evans said the Vigier hiring is a sign that Apple is "moving forward fast" into NFC, possibly with the iPhone 5 next year.
Evans noted a 2009 Apple patent for building an NFC antenna into a touch screen, as well as other patents for ticketing and even use of the service name iPay.
NFC is most popular in Japan, and adoption in the U.S. is considered slow, perhaps due to U.S. consumers' concerns about security with mobile payments. Generator Research recently said that mobile payments would hit $633 billion in 2014, up from $68 billion in 2009.
Gartner said recently that mobile payments would reach the mainstream in 2012, when 3% of all mobile device users will be making mobile payments. While a small percentage of the total, that represents 190 million users.
Gartner puts NFC in a list of mobile payment technologies that also includes SMS (Short Message Service), Wireless Application Protocol (WAP) and Unstructure Supplementary Service Data (USSD), which is not used in the U.S.
Matt Hamblen covers mobile and wireless, smartphones and other handhelds, and wireless networking for Computerworld. Follow Matt on Twitter at @matthamblen or subscribe to Matt's RSS feed. His e-mail address is email@example.com.