Lovejoy's own post about the filing was a model of reticence. He offered his opinion that "it seems likely that Apple is intending to eventually establish iBeacon as a wireless electronic wallet system, rather than the existing NFC system commonly used in parts of Europe and Asia..."
That's debatable, partly because Apple hasn't said much in public about its iBeacon plans. iBeacon was introduced in iOS 7. It relies on a Bluetooth variant: Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE), which minimizes power in part by offering lower data rates. The beacons themselves are small, Bluetooth sensors placed around, say, a department store or museum. They connect with the Bluetooth radio in an iPhone or iPad. Apps and software can be used for indoor mapping, navigation, notifications, customized ads, and coupons. Presumably, mobile payments might be another app.
Sonic Notify makes such beacons, supporting both iOS iBeacon and the recently introduced Android BLE. Two grocery chains this month began trialing the iBeacon-based hardware and software from InMarket.
Lovejoy's blog post also noted, correctly, that a patent application isn't a sure and certain sign of a product introduction in the next nine months. And while Apple has said little about its plans for electronic payments, Lovejoy is probably right when he concludes that "the question of using iPhones for payment is almost certainly when and how rather than if."
Reticence in the iOSphere is rather like a snowball in hell.
The patent application put Geek.com's Russell Holly into a lather of NFC anticipation: his blog post was titled, with unconscious irony, "iPhone 6 could have NFC (No really, it might happen this time)."
"Despite all of our wildest hopes and dreams, Apple has yet to grace the iPhone with what could end up being one of its most important hardware upgrades," he wrote. "Once again, however, it looks like there may be a chance we'll see NFC on the new iPhone."
Despite all Holly's wildest hopes, the Apple patent application itself is actually not for NFC, but for a "commercial transaction method." The idea, as the document explains, is first creating a secure link between a "purchasing device" a smartphone and a point of sale device through a specified "air interface" the way of transmitting information over the air between two radios. Then a second air interface is used to "conduct a secure commercial transaction."
NFC is one air interface named in the patent. So is RFID, Wi-Fi, and Bluetooth. The real focus seems to be creating and completing a "commercial transaction between the purchasing device and the backend server using payment data secured by a shared secret known to a secure element in the purchasing device and to the backend server," using one, or two, of several possible radio technologies.
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