Near-field communications chips will be coming soon, thanks to Apple and Google - but deals are needed with major players such as Visa and Barclaycard before it will take off
Near-field communications have been built in to a number of phones over the years, and Google’s Nexus S is just the latest to feature it.
Crucially, however, the technology to make it mainstream is neither in enough phones nor enough retailers, and doubts persist about security.
Barclaycard’s own NFC technology is being rolled-out anyway, and many companies are looking at it. But uptake is, so far, very slow indeed.
Suggestions that Apple could be about to make a crucial difference to NFC penetration might, therefore, just be true – the largest tech company in the world has a sufficient pile of cash to subsidise the technology enough to put it in a huge number of shops, while building it into the new iPhone would mean that suddenly a vast community of developers would have access to a new and potentially lucrative tool.
It would be wrong, however, to get over-excited on that particular NFC front: although tapping into iTunes's popular payment system would be useful, what’s stunted NFC’s growth in the past has been a lack of enthusiasm for yet another system on retail counters, and the fact that Visa and Mastercard have got such good relationships with existing businesses.
So perhaps it would be more realistic for consumers to look to mobile phone makers – Apple included – to do deals with Visa, Mastercard and others that will see handsets being used to pay for goods and services.
Which isn’t to say that Apple or Google couldn’t revolutionise retail if they wanted to – rather that they’ve got more sense.