In all the rumor-crazed lead-up to the launch of the iPhone 4S, one feature that was speculated about but never that likely was the inclusion of near field communications. Next year, when the iPhone 5 is actually, finally released, there’s a very good chance it will have NFC, according to a report from DigiTimes.

Citing sources at Taiwan-based smartphone manufacturers, DigiTimes says Apple’s new iPhone will be one of several devices to ship with NFC in 2012, although we expect the sometimes faulty iPhone rumor mill to churn on until the device is unveiled next year.

If the iPhone 5 does include NFC, it will be far from the first smartphone of its class to include the technology. In typical Apple fashion, while it may not be the trailblazer, it’s sure to popularize the feature and push it toward widespread adoption. Some say the iPhone’s inclusion of NFC could propel the technology’s penetration from below 10% to more than 50% in just a few years.

This will have all kinds of implications for mobile developers, who will hopefully have access to the phone’s NFC chip in the iOS SDK and thus can build cutting edge, short-range wireless features into apps. We can expect to see iPhone-based home entry systems, NFC-powered games and whatever else developers can dream up.

Perhaps most significantly, the proliferation of NFC-enabled phones will help make contact-less payments a more feasible solution for consumers. Everybody from Google to American Express has been working on their own wireless payments solution, in the hopes of one day replacing your wallet with your phone. In a few years, lofty goals like that may be within reach, assuming widespread adoption of NFC-ready devices.

The unveiling of the iPhone 5 is still several months away, so any speculation this early in the game can turn out to be fruitless. We expect to see this particular rumor evolve in the coming months as analysts weigh in and supply chain sources leak purported details.