Apple files possible new mobile wallet patent

One of the biggest names in tech — the maker of one of the most popular smartphones in the world — recently filed a patent that may suggest its future mobile wallet plans.

Apple's latest patent filing with the federal government is for a new app that, theoretically, would not only use near-field communications to complete purchases, but also to scan items as a means of creating a shopping list, according to a report from American Banker. This is just the latest in a string of patents sought by Apple for various technologies that may be related to its opening foray into the mobile wallet industry, which it has seemed hesitant to make in the past.

The latest in a series
Over the past few years, the company has applied for and obtained numerous patents related to the use of smartphone-enabled mobile wallet payments, but this latest is one of the biggest steps toward an NFC-based system yet for Apple, the report said. Already, it has obtained such documents for the use of card payments made possible through iTunes billing for purchases made through its App Store, and recently revealed plans for its new Passbook program that stores credit card information on the phone itself. However, most were considered to be somewhat disappointing by mobile wallet standards.

Further, it was also recently granted a patent for a potential program known as iTravel, which would allow users to use smartphones to purchase plane tickets, then get through the entire security and boarding process using the device, the report said. However, it's unlikely that any experts will even be able to guess at how any of the above technologies might be used because of Apple's policy of playing things extremely close to the vest. Usually, many of its plans aren't revealed until it begins showing off its new devices, and the latest iPhone model could be unveiled as early as September.

What's the plan?
While there has been some amount of clamor for Apple to release an NFC-capable iPhone, to better keep up with the market for such devices, which is growing rapidly, it's not entirely clear that the next handset will use it, the report said. As recently as mid-July, an expert told the Wall Street Journal that Apple was hesitant to commit to any one technology, and instead enter the market when one has been decided upon, and attempt to revolutionize it in other ways.

On the other hand, many have criticized Apple for not making its last iPhone, the 4S, NFC-compatible, the report said. This latest move is therefore seen as a good one to some experts, even if next month's potential announcement doesn't actually include that type of technology.

"Apple is establishing some unique NFC facets for its future deployment, but also protecting themselves with patents so they don't get sued when it is time to roll it out," Todd Ablowitz, president of Double Diamond Group, told the news site. "I could see [next month's announcement] going either way, and either way is viable."

Mobile wallets continue to gain steam
Regardless of whether Apple does finally enter the NFC mobile wallet game, its potential competitors are doing so in considerable numbers, and are making concerted efforts to improve these services, the report said. For instance, Google recently expanded its Wallet program to include cards issued by more major carriers, and Square recently partnered with Starbucks to start using its Pay With Square program at all of the company's coffee shops.

It's believed that, in general, mobile wallet technology will gain a significant foothold in the marketplace, and in consumer's daily spending habits, at some point in the next few years. Already, many forms of mobile payments are becoming more popular, and some experts believe that by 2016, it could be worth tens of billions of dollars annually for participating companies.

And while in some cases, experts say the biggest hurdle to adoption is a lack of available technology – a problem that's being fixed rapidly – most agree that consumer wariness over the security of these systems is a major obstacle to clear. However, it's also believed that this can be overcome with time, especially because mobile wallet transactions are technically far more secure than traditional credit card use.

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