Many analysts expect Apple to enter the mobile payments space soon and a recent patent application that has just been made public appears to back those claims.
The patent application reveals the backend architecture for a versatile mobile "omni-wallet", and, notably for the cryptocurrency community, also references "virtualised currencies" – although this does not necessarily mean Apple will enable digital currency functionality.
Unlike Google, which uses an open approach with Android, Apple enforces very strict policies in its iOS ecosystem. The Cupertino-based tech giant vets every app submitted to its app store and for some months refused to all allow cryptocurrency apps in its walled garden.
QR, Cloud and NFC functionality
The backend patent application describes a comprehensive wallet system that can handle digital debit and credit cards, along with coupons issued by merchants and other organisations.
The "virtualised currency" reference does not necessarily suggest the wallet will be capable of storing digital currencies like bitcoin and is general enough that it could cover a wide range of concepts, ranging from store credit to various loyalty schemes offered by merchants, or even Apple itself.
Putting the pieces together
Apple does not have a habit of launching incomplete products. The company is renowned for polishing and, perhaps, overdesigning its products, both in the software and hardware departments. So we expect nothing less from its upcoming payments push.
And while the company usually keeps a tight lid on leaks, it does seem to be setting up the building blocks for a comprehensive mobile payments service.
Last year’s iPhone 5S launched with Touch ID, a simple fingerprint sensor that enables biometric authentication. With the iOS 8 Touch ID API, the company will open up the sensor to third-party apps. It is also rumoured that Apple will integrate Near Field Communications (NFC) in upcoming iPhones, which could launch in a matter of weeks.
The company’s iBeacon technology is based on Bluetooth 4.0 Low Energy and it is already available on a wide range of Apple devices running iOS 7. The technology has a number of potential applications in brick-and-mortar shops.
On their own, none of these technologies deserve the 'killer app' moniker. However, Apple already has upwards of 800 million user accounts and the sheer size of its user base could prove more important than the technology behind its products and services. Quite what that technology is, we'll just have to wait and see.
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