Apple Applies For Patent With NFC Capabilities
December 20, 2012

Apple Applies For Passbook Patent With NFC Capabilities

Michael Harper for — Your Universe Online

Apple´s go-slow approach to almost everything doesn´t always work to quell the rumor mill. For instance, there´s been talk about an alleged Apple TV for years, and we´ve have yet to see it. However, anytime any sort of news related to said Apple TV pops up, it´s quickly gobbled as potential buyers and the tech press issue conjecture after conjecture about when or if Apple will ever release this thing. Their hesitancy to move forward with a new technology (think LTE or USB 3.0) also leads some to call Apple “outdated” or accuse them of no longer being the innovative company they once were.

Today, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office published an application filed by Apple for an "Integrated coupon storage, discovery, and redemption system," to be used on a mobile device. So far, it sounds like little more than Passbook, their new app which many believed signaled Apple´s entrance into the digital wallet market when it was announced in June.

This new patent, however, gets a more little interesting, mentioning a technology which Apple has yet to pull the trigger on: near field communication, or NFC.

This application also reveals a few other features to the “digital wallet” not currently found in Passbook. For instance, the patent describes a process for adding new digital coupons via the camera as well as using the app to subscribe to certain coupon services, such as Groupon. These coupons could automatically arrive in the digital wallet and appear whenever the time is right.

Once these coupons are entered into the mobile device (iPhone), they can be called up either through the app or by geo-fencing, a feature already active in Apple´s Passbook.

With NFC technology, these coupons could likely be redeemed by simply waving the iPhone in front of a scanner or placing it on a touch pad. In fact, the reason this patent sounds like an apt description of Passbook is because some of these features are already present in Passbook. However, this patent deals more with coupon and coupon storage (and NFC). Apple has already been granted a patent for the storage and redemption of travel tickets.

The application is dated June 2011, one year before Apple announced this app at WWDC 2012. Reading from this filing, it seems likely Apple either had plans to add NFC in the beginning or simply wanted to give themselves the option should they one day decide to implement it.

It makes sense for Apple to one day add NFC capabilities to their mobile products, but they´ve yet to make any real mention of it.

The New York Times famously claimed that this feature would one day show up in a “coming iteration” of the iPhone, though they were also quick to say “although not necessarily the next one.” 

It also makes sense for Apple to patent whatever they can, when they can. Apple excels at this, applying for patents on features and technologies that will likely never see the light of day. As such, this has led people to believe that Apple will release touch-screen iMacs, solar-powered iPods and even a stylus. Some of these products may even make it to testing, but even then Apple has the option to reject the project.

At most, this newly revealed patent application indicates that Apple has NFC technology on their radar, and this in and of itself isn´t anything new.