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Latest Apple hire could signal NFC capabilities in future iPhones

More evidence that Apple is interested in adding near-field communication technology to its future portable devices, allowing users to have their iPhone act as a wallet for transactions, has come in the form of a new hire.

As first noted by Near Field Communications World, Apple recently hired Benjamin Vigier, who has been working with NFC technology since 2004. Prior to landing a gig at Apple, his most recent role was project manager for mobile wallet, payment and NFC at mFoundry, a company that specializes in mobile payments.

He's taken on a similar role at Apple, where his official title is product manager of mobile commerce, according to Vigier's LinkedIn profile.

In more than two years at mFoundry, Vigier was responsible for a number of mobile payment projects, including Starbucks Card Mobile, Paypal Mobile, Sprint MyMoneyManager, mFoundry Mobile Banking and a NFC wallet for one of the top three banks in in the U.S. In an earlier stint at Sandisk, he was also involved in NFC and mobile commerce.

Though it has not yet found its way into any Apple products, the company's behind-the-scenes interest in NFC is nothing new, turning up in numerous patent applications filed by the companies. A more recent one from July described a system that would allow users to rely on NFC functionality in the iPhone to research products and quickly find helpful information, such as an instruction manual.

Last year, reports suggested that Apple had tested Radio Frequency Identification, or RFID, in prototype iPhones. The technology allows a device to sense embedded chips in nearby objects without making direct contact or without using visible light, like a barcode reader.

Support for RFID or a number of other NFC technologies could allow a variety of "touchless" technologies, ranging from swipe payments where an iPhone could be used to pay for items at checkout, or sensing of information from kiosks and objects.

NFC World contacted Vigier in an effort to find out what his new role at Apple will entail, but he declined to comment.