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Apple moves further into finance with 'virtual cards' in iOS 16

The latest developer beta of iOS 16 includes references to an unannounced support for virtual cards, a security feature used by banks to protect users' real credit card details.

A potentially significant new feature has been discovered in the code for the newly-released third iOS 16 developer beta. Although not announced or previously rumored, it appears that Apple may add support for so-called virtual cards.

Virtual cards are a security measure used by banks and credit card companies. Using this measure, a credit card owner gets an extra card number which acts as an alias for the real one.

Typically a virtual card will work for only a limited number of transactions. They will also have a comparatively short lifespan, often being usable for no more than a year.

Apple Card already hides a user's genuine number, but the beta code discovered in iOS 16 suggests an expansion of this idea. It implies that Safari will be able to provide a virtual card for sites that do not accept the regular Apple Card or Apple Pay.

"Make this card available in Safari AutoFill and hide your real card number when shopping online," goes one reference in the code. "Continue to use your card as usual. When shopping online, it's now available in Safari AutoFill with your real card information hidden."

Then there is also this: "For added security, the website will now use a virtual card number and is available in Safari AutoFill."

The inclusion of code such as this is not proof that the feature will launch when iOS 16 ships. However, its presence in the beta means it is at least being tested.

These code references were first spotted by 9to5Mac.

Virtual Card support follows Apple's increasing moves into finance. While it has long had Apple Pay, and in recent years added Apple Card, the company announced a Buy Now, Pay Later service at WWDC 2022.