iPhone 5 will have NFC inside, reckons Orange
Apple's iPhone 5 is likely to include contactless NFC technology, according to mobile network Orange.
NFC, or near field communications technology, allows phones to be used to make tap-to-pay transactions by swiping the phone over a compatible reader. It can also be used to share data between two NFC phones or grab data by tapping on an NFC tag.
Apple's biggest concern about including NFC in the next generation of its super phone is ensuring the technology lives up to the hype, says Orange.
"There is a question about Apple [adopting NFC for the iPhone 5]," said Jean-Paul Cottet, executive VP of group marketing and innovation, at Orange, speaking during a press lunch in Paris. "I think, seen from Apple['s perspective], the market is not yet enough mature."
Cottet, who recently met with Apple CEO Tim Cook and marketing chief Phil Schiller to discuss NFC, said Apple's priority is "the customer journey" -- or, in other words, how easy is it to do useful stuff with the technology.
To be practically useful, NFC needs to be accepted by the vast majority of shops and retail outlets where you want to use your phone to pay -- in the same way that London's Oyster travelcards let you tap in and out of ticket gates and pay for trips on buses.
In France, there are currently around 10,000 retail outlets accepting NFC mobile payments, according to Orange, but the operator believes most French shops will be accepting contactless payments by next year. Mobile users in France who bank with BNP Paribas can already use an app called KIX to make payments with an NFC phone.
In the UK, NFC has been held back by a lack of contactless phones but also by banks being slow to create and support NFC payment apps. Instead, Barclays and Barclaycard have championed contactless debit and credit cards and swipe-to-pay plastic now sits in millions of wallets.
More mobile makers are now adding NFC to phones. Nokia has included NFC in an Orange-flavoured variant of the Lumia 610, for example, its cheapest Windows Phone device to date. Cottet, who met with Nokia CEO Stephen Elop this week, described NFC as a "no brainer" for the once-mighty Finn.
"For Nokia, [NFC] is a no brainer. It changes the game," he said. "And we have the good support of Microsoft, even for Windows Phone 8... They work on NFC from day one on the new Windows Phone operating system."
In France, Orange started rolling out NFC-enabled SIMs to its customers last year -- in an attempt to kick-start the NFC market. These SIMs are only a part of the picture and still have to be used in conjunction with an NFC-enabled phone -- or with a phone that's been fitted with an NFC-enabled battery.
"All our SIM cards are now NFC-enabled," said Cottet. "We decided to put that on all post-pay SIMs, not for pre-pay -- but 90 per cent of the business is post-paid in France... We are betting on the future."
With so many pieces in the NFC puzzle it's little wonder Apple is thinking long and hard about whether now is the right time to get involved with this it'll-be-really-useful-at-some-future-point technology.
Apple has often taken its time when incorporating new hardware features -- the original iPhone famously lacked 3G, for example -- so while NFC is certainly on Apple's radar it remains to be seen whether the Californian company will stick it inside the iPhone 5.