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Tuesday, January 25, 2011, 04:50 am PT (07:50 am ET)

Apple finalizing wireless e-wallet for iPhone 5, iPad 2 - report

A new report claims Apple will add near-field communication technology to this year's anticipated iPad 2 and iPhone 5, giving users the ability to have their device serve as an electronic wallet for quick wireless transactions.

Richard Doherty, director of the consulting firm Envisioneering Group, told Bloomberg that the next-generation iPad and iPhone will both include near-field communication technology. In a report on Tuesday, Doherty cited engineers who he claimed are working on hardware for the project.

"Apple's service may be able to tap into user information already on file, including credit-card numbers, iTunes gift-card balance and bank data..." the report said, citing a financial industry adviser. It was speculated that the inclusion of an NFC chip could compete with services from Visa, MasterCard, eBay and PayPal.

A NFC chip already appears in the Google Nexus S, which debuted in the U.S. on Dec. 16. The chip allows for short-range wireless data transmissions for a variety of potential activities, including an "e-wallet."

Reports dating back to late 2009 have claimed that Apple is working to add radio-frequency identification, or RFID, to the iPhone. And last year, the company hired an expert on NFC, while another report claimed the company was already testing NFC-enabled iPhone prototypes.

Doherty reportedly said that Apple could start its own mobile payment service for use at retail stores as early as mid-2011, when the iPhone 5 is expected to launch. For such a service, iTunes could be revamped to include traditional credit card features like loyalty credits and points earned through transactions.

"Using the service, customers could walk into a store or restaurant and make payments straight from an iPad or iPhone," the report said. "They could also receive loyalty rewards and credits for purchases, such as when referring a friend, Doherty said."

He claimed that Apple has already built a prototype payment terminal intended for small businesses "such as hairdressers and mom-and-pop stores." He added that Apple may "heavily" subsidize the hardware, or even give it away to retailers, to encourage rapid adoption of NFC technology and boost sales of NFC-equipped iPhones and iPads.