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Tuesday, November 22, 2011, 05:16 am PT (08:16 am ET)

Apple expected to add NFC support for iOS e-wallet transactions in 2012

Apple is rumored to add support for near-field communications technology to iOS next year, potentially giving iPhone owners the ability to use their phone as an e-wallet for making transactions.

Smartphone makers out of Taiwan told DigiTimes on Tuesday that Apple currently plans to add NFC support to iOS in 2012, likely with the next iPhone model. That would help penetration of NFC expand from what is currently less than 10 percent of smartphones sold to more than 50 percent in the next two to three years.

Microsoft, too, is said to be planning NFC-enabled smartphones for launch in 2012 with its Windows Phone platform. The additional support would allow its partners to build hardware with NFC chips to take advantage of the software support.

NFC chips have been appearing in some smartphones throughout 2011, with hardware makers Samsung, HTC, Nokia and Research in Motion all building handsets with support. But sources reportedly said that "unsmooth development of NFC" is largely because of a lack of standard specification, ecosystem and commercial operation.

Google has attempted to overcome those hurdles with Google Wallet, its own mobile payment application for NFC-equipped Android smartphones. The service uses virtual cards, such as a Google Prepaid Card, to allow users to "tap to pay."

In an attempt to further address the lack of NFC standardization, the GSM Association has been pushing a SIM-based NFC protocol that has gained support from 45 carriers around the world, including AT&T and Verizon, the two largest wireless providers in the U.S.

"This affords a clear direction for handset vendors and developers of applications to move toward applications of NFC functions," the report said.

Claims of an NFC-enabled iPhone have persisted for years as the short-range wireless technology has begun to appear on the market. But those rumors gained some credibility this September when The New York Times reported that Apple plans to build a future iPhone with NFC chips from Qualcomm for mobile payment functionality.

Apple's interest in NFC technology has been well documented through the company's patent filings, with proposed inventions related to e-wallet and tag reader functionality. Another patent application proposed using passive radio-frequency identification to transmit information about hardware failures.

Beyond patents, evidence of Apple's interest in NFC technology has come in the form of job listings and even public comments from mobile executives. Reports of iPhone prototypes with RFID functionality date back to 2009.