Apple introduced a new app for its iOS 6 mobile operating system yesterday called Passbook.
Passbook acts as a digital wallet for your gift cards, event tickets, airplane boarding passes, etc. For example, you can load a Target gift card to your Passbook. When it's time to pay, you show your iPhone to the cashier and he or she scans the barcode on your screen to complete the transaction.
However, there's a bit more to unpack here than buying your morning coffee with your iPhone. This is the first significant step Apple has made into the mobile payments space.
Passbook may be starting with gift cards and boarding passes, but the next logical step is to open it up so you can add your credit or debit card too.
The biggest hurdle comes at point of sale. Credit and debit cards need an extra layer of security. That's why mobile payment services like Google Wallet use special Near Field Communication (NFC) chips in phones. NFC chips let you tap your phone on a payment pad to complete the transaction.
The iPhone doesn't have NFC (yet), so Passbook is limited to gift cards that can be scanned by the merchant. If and when Apple does add NFC to the iPhone, then we'll start seeing credit card payments come to the iPhone.
This could happen one of two ways. Payments may be tied to the credit card you use to buy apps, movies, and songs in iTunes. Another possibility is you'll be able to "dump" all your credit and debit cards into Passbook and choose which one you want to pay with.
There's one major hurdle. NFC pads aren't widely available at merchants. If Apple does start allowing mobile credit card payments on a future iPhone, it will probably be able to use its clout to convince big retailers to get on board. That won't be so easy for smaller merchants though.
In short, don't expect to be paying for everything with your iPhone in the near future. But it's coming.