New Apple hire confirms iPhone 5 as 'iWallet'

If you've been wondering what to expect from iPhone 5, the next-generation, beyond an all-new and improved antenna, then let me share a few ideas with you -- your iPhone will be your wallet, your house keys, your identity, the centre of your mobile existence. At least, that's how it appears on news of Apple's hiring of near field communications (NFC) expert Benjamin Vigier.

[This story is from the new Apple Holic blog at Computerworld. Subscribe via RSS to make sure you don't miss a beat. Or link up via Twitter on the all-new feed.]

In one of my early blogs here I talked about Apple's move into exploring NFC technologies. The company has filed many related patents for uses of such technologies within its devices, and its subsequent hiring of relative NFC industry veteran Vigier means plans are moving forward fast.

Most recently Vigier was product manager for mobile wallet, payment and NFC at mobile payments specialists mFoundry. He has stints at a French mobile network and flash memory maker, Sandisk, to his name. This chap knows his stuff.

He is the man behind both the PayPal Mobile service and Starbucks' barcode-based mobile payments service, according to Near Field Communications World.

Patenting the future

Apple already has NFC-based patents for an airline ticketing and boarding pass application, a concert, entertainment and sports ticketing application, and a slew of mobile payments services.

The company also has patents under specific service names, including iPay, iBuy and iCoupons, Products+ and Grab & Go (the latter a file transfer patent).

A June 2009 Apple patent revealed it has developed a method for building an NFC antenna into a touch screen. (Delivering effective tools for NFC technologies may also be behind Apple's decision to develop external antenna technologies.)

iMusic everywhere

The company has also patented an NFC-enabled iPod, games controller, TV and iPhone.

I can imagine that latter patent, if tied to location-based services and iTunes music streaming, could actually enable a user to hear their choice of music from whatever output device they happened to be near -- in their den, their bedroom, in the car, on their iPhone/iPod, in their office and (possibly) discretely in the background on public transport.

(Though in that latter case the opportunity will be to feed each commuter's musical tastes into a recommendation engine in order to output tracks most likely to be enjoyed by everybody in the carriage. And that will likely end up outputting thousands of tracks by U2 and Dido, in which case silence probably is golden.)

Alongside its patents, Apple this year reportedly was looking to acquire contactless/near field communications tech firm, VIVOtech, a provider of "Contactless/near field communications (NFC) payment software, NFC smart posters, contactless readers/writers, and over the air card provisioning, promotion, and transaction management infrastructure software," according to its own company description.

Apple's series of patents, its rumored interest in Vivotech and its move to recruit Vigier confirm the huge interest the company is taking in these technologies.

Married now to its iAd service and moving to widen its available range of cloud-based services it becomes pretty clear Apple seeks to get to the very top of innovation in the mobile industry.

Security guard

With Remote Wipe and the development of touch-based fingerprint recognition technology for the iPhone (below), Apple is looking to develop rock hard security protection for people's iPhones.

"The abstract for the July 2nd filing states that a device, such as an iPhone perhaps, could "store user input signatures, including fingerprint signatures. The user input signatures can, in turn, be associated with user-selectable commands. When a user provides user input (including fingerprints) to the electronic device that matches one of the stored user input signatures, the device can initiate the associated user-selectable command." Source

Technologies like these will be essential if Apple is to deliver the kind of NFC-based personalized services the iPhone will be capable of.

Once these security considerations are met, Apple will begin to introduce and develop solutions based on NFC.

Speed demon

The next-gen iPhone is likely to see an Apple-developed processor based on ARM's Cortex-A9 -- or its follow-up, code-named 'Eagle'. Faster and even more power efficient than the chip at the heart of the iPhone 5 (and iPad and in future the iPod touch), this chip features multiple cores with a top speed of up to 2GHz.

With this kind of on-chip horsepower combined with a focus on low power demands, Apple has the building blocks it needs to implement new electrical sensors in future devices.

That's even before you end up with this gadget.

One day your phone will be your wallet. Is this a vision of a triumphant future, or a step into a plutocratic technology-driven hell? Let me know.

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Copyright © 2010 IDG Communications, Inc.

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