Home Apple Hires NFC Expert, Mobile Payments Coming to iPhone?

Apple Hires NFC Expert, Mobile Payments Coming to iPhone?

Apple has just hired Benjamin Vigier, an expert in the field of near-field communications, as its new product manager for mobile commerce, reports NearFieldCommunicationsWorld.com, a trade publication for NFC-based products.

NFC is a short-range, high-frequency wireless technology which lets devices, primarily mobile phones, communicate with other NFC devices in order to exchange data. This allows for a number of applications including mobile ticketing, mobile payment, e-money, electronic keys, smart billboards and more.

Vigier has been involved in NFC technology since 2004, working at French mobile network operator Bouygues Telecom and flash memory manufacturer Sandisk, NFC World reports. Most recently, he served as the product manager for mobile payments company mFoundry, where he designed PayPal’s mobile service and Starbuck’s barcode reading application, also used for mobile payments at checkout.

Now Vigier is bringing his considerable expertise to Apple, a move that hints at the Cupertino-based company’s interest in bringing NFC technology to its mobile devices, specifically the iPhone and possibly the iPod Touch.

Apple’s Latest Patents

Apple has been busy filing a number of NFC-related patents as of late, notes the article, including a mobile payments service, “iPay,” “iBuy” and “iCoupons” patents, an airline ticketing patent and several others.

In some of the app patents submitted recently, Apple used third-party screenshots to demonstrate the technology in question, a detail which immediately led to “PatentGate 2010,” thanks to media hysteria. (See The New York Times, TUAW, The Register, TechCrunch, GigaOM, n-tv, oh and here too.) But Anand Sethuraman, senior patent counsel at Apple, responded that the screenshots in question where merely being use to illustrate apps that could use such technology – Apple was not trying to patent the user interfaces itself.

If the underlying technology is what Apple cares about, then the spec and diagrams contained in the patents could serve as “prior art” in future claims. Given Apple’s ideas (they’ve submitted patent apps in a number of verticals, including hotel booking, fashion, travel and more), if the patents were awarded to them, it would limit the ability of app developers to secure patents of their own for such technology. While that seems bad for developers on the one hand, it would allow all Apple developers looking to use the tech within their own apps to do so, without being concerned they were infringing on their competition’s patent. Developers would then compete amongst themselves to create the most useful app using the technology, which would then help Apple increase the size of its App Store catalog.

And such internal competition among its developers could give Apple a one-up on its top OS competition to date, Google’s Android mobile OS, now the top smartphone operating system in the U.S. Using NFC technology in combination with these patents would give Apple even more of an edge.

But all this is just speculation, given Apple’s typical hush-hush nature regarding its product plans and roadmap. What we do know is that Apple could certainly use a killer feature to keep Android at bay. NFC may be it.

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