Your wallet may soon disappear into your phone

Personally being involved in many discussions, I believe that mos people interested in technology have at some time or the other wondered about the integration of your wallet into your mobile. I am talking about payments to be done through the mobile, or use he mobile as your ID card ? Well if the tech giants of the world have anything to say, it might happen more sooner than you might think. After replacing many of the small gadgets that you might use, and provide additional functionality into the phone like, camera (Check out 18 innovative uses of that phone camera here) , FM Transmitter and receiver, gaming device and many more; the phone giants staring with Apple are now looking to completely replace your wallet into your mobile.

This magic technology is called NFC or near field communication. Although the possibility of doing this has been evident for a long time using RFID tags, its just now. But NFC is coming over in a big way to a mobile near you; all courtesy to Apple. Yes, we know people are suckers for anything Steve Jobs seems to be making and selling including the ridiculous iPad. Getting back to Near Field Communication …


Some Technical Details

First things first, some technicalities about NFC. This is the definition that Wikipedia has for the NFC technology. It is evident reading from the initial definition that its made foe Mobile Phones to use and utilize.

Near Field Communication or NFC, is a short-range high frequency wireless communication technology which enables the exchange of data between devices over about a 10 centimeter (around 4 inches) distance. The technology is a simple extension of the ISO/IEC 14443 proximity-card standard (proximity card, RFID) that combines the interface of a smartcard and a reader into a single device. An NFC device can communicate with both existing ISO/IEC 14443 smartcards and readers, as well as with other NFC devices, and is thereby compatible with existing contactless infrastructure already in use for public transportation and payment.

Some of the Applications of this interesting new technology in the Mobile technology industry is definately going to be usage of the mobile as :

  • Mobile ticketing in public transport — an extension of the existing contactless infrastructure.
  • Mobile payment — the device acts as a debit/ credit payment card.
  • Smart poster — the mobile phone is used to read RFID tags on outdoor billboards in order to get info on the move. Advertising like in Minority Report.
  • Electronic Ticketing
  • Electronic Money
  • Travel cards
  • Identity documents
  • Mobile commerce
  • Electronic keys
  • User Authentication in desktops, softwares
  • Bank Authentication of users

Believe it or not, this is a feature that is already available in some phones, but again like a gazillion features that are available in phones but not sold cos of no brand name like the Indian Phone with counterfeit currency checker, this technology requires some brands behind it for it to move along. And to be honest, what better brand than Apple or Nokia. A small look on the page here, might give you an idea of how many people are actually trialling the technology. In fact, Dubai-based mobile network operators Du and Etisalat have had to put their planned commercial NFC service launches on hold due to a lack of handsets, of terminals and of NFC SIM cards, the operators have told a local business publication. Etisalat first announced plans to launch NFC services in October 2009 in partnership with  Emirates NBD and Du has been running an NFC trial at The Walk, a 1.7km beachfront shopping promenade in Dubai, since December 2009.

Apples impact

Apple the more significant player, like I just mentioned earlier. The new FaceTime feature on the iPhone 4 is an outstanding example of Apple’s ability to take an existing technology and make it easy for consumers to use, as if the function is magic. Apple has not only set some patents in for the usage of NFC with the iPhone but also recently hired one of the pioneers in the field, and it is that move that gives the notion that Apple might be working on something really big for NFC. Here are some of the patents :

NFC e-tickets with ‘extra benefits’

The system that is laid out in this extraordinarily detailed patent, points to a new iTunes based web service for tickets that will naturally enhance the iTunes music empire. Apple definitely envisions a way to revolutionize the entire current concert ticket process so as to eliminate paper while enhancing the concert or event experience.

[ Patently Apple ]

iPhone is Home Automation

Apple’s engineers see the iPhone eventually controlling every single electronics device in your home including the water sprinkler and home security system for starters. As you could clearly see from our opening graphic above, the iPhone will apparently work with Microsoft’s Xbox 360, an HDTV and the Apple TV remote. But that doesn’t even scratch the surface of what they envision NFC being used for. One wild 3D CAD application shown in this report will definitely open your eyes to some of the interesting twists that Apple is exploring in conjunction with NFC.

[ Patently Apple ]

Product + Benefit Management System

Apple introduces “Products +” a generic name for a future “benefit management application.” The idea behind the patent is that Apple will work with participating vendors – be they a trendy coffee vendor or electronics or book retailer – so that their packaging will sport an NFC tag. This tag will be able to be read by a user’s NFC enabled iPhone which could in return surprise the user with hidden benefits ranging from free merchandise to free music and a lot of options in-between. The benefits angle to an NFC enabled iPhone could tip the scale in a any given sale and I think that this has the potential of being an explosively hot feature to kick off the NFC revolution on the iPhone.

[ Patently Apple ]


Apple appears to be working on a new travel check-in application that they’re simply calling “iTravel.” Apple is obviously working with the Airlines to ensure that the iPhone will be up to standard when new ticketless systems roll out in the coming years. Apple’s iTravel focuses on such matters as airline check-in and baggage identification, advanced electronic ID, car rentals, hotel and airline reservations and so forth. Apple’s iTravel is yet another Near Field Communications based application within a host of recent revelations. It would appear, at least on the surface – that Apple may be working on a new suite of NFC related applications for a future iPhone. Perhaps such a suite could be ready by the time they roll out their iPhone 4G next year.

[ Patently Apple ]

iPhone with NFC for Point of Purchase

Point of Purchase (POP) application that will eventually be adding very sophisticated new functionality to an iPhone: Functionality that will go far beyond just using it for a single POP application. Apple introduces us to an NFC-iPhone that will include a built-in scanner, biometric sensor, added camera functionality and a secondary fingerprint scanner for verifying a user’s identity to retailers. This report even provides you with two videos illustrating how it will technically work with a future MacBook and/or Apple-TV as well.

Some other illustrations here

Security aspects


The RF signal for the wireless data transfer can be picked up with antennas. The distance from which an attacker is able to eavesdrop the RF signal depends on numerous parameters, but is typically a small number of meters.

Data modification

Data destruction is relatively easy to realize. One possibility to perturb the signal is the usage of an RFID jammer. There is no way to prevent such an attack, but if the NFC devices check the RF field while they are sending, it is possible to detect it.

Lost property

The very simple problem of losing the mobile phone and therewith opening access to any finder of the property is not addressed. Either the NFC RFID card or the mobile phone will act as single factor authenticating entities beyond the fact that the mobile phone is protected with the pin code again as a single authenticating factor. Hence the elementary aspect to defeat lost property threat requires an extended security concept including more than one physically independent authentication factors.

Walk off

Once lawfully opened access to secure function or data is usually protected with time out closing on pausing the usage. Modern attack concepts may interfere despite the intention to shut down access when the user turns inactive. The distance of a successful attacker to the locus of lawfully granted access is not addressed with any of the described concepts.

Final Thoughts

After replacing so many daily gadgets, it is very evident that slowly our wallet might get replaced into the phone. This would make life more interesting but also more scary. Although NFC is being pushed by Apple, it will flow through more into Android devices as per this report from the industry. Looks like an interesting way forward.

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