NFC is a low-power, short-range radio communication technology. It allows two devices to communicate securely when in close proximity to each other. One common consumer implementation of the technology is used in credit cards which can be "waved" over a special reader to pay a retailer. In parts of Asia, mobile phones with NFC capabilities are commonly used to purchase items at retail, to buy from vending machines, or to pay transit fares, with transactions added to a monthly cell phone bill or deducted from a credit card associated with a user's account.
But the iPhone's popularity, along with Apple's usual knack for simple consumer-facing technologies, could be the catalyst to popularize NFC with smartphone users. Passbook, a new app that will be part of iOS 6, will be a one-stop shop for coupons, tickets, passes, and customer loyalty cards. Buy movie tickets from Fandango, for instance, and the app will store a bar code that can be scanned for entry at the theater. With an NFC chip, you could merely wave your iPhone over a special reader to check yourself in.
Rumors of NFC hardware coming to Apple devices has been growing over the past year or so. When combined with the fact that Apple has applied for several patents related to mobile NFC use, as well as hired its own NFC expert, it certainly seems plausible that a next-gen iPhone could begin Apple's foray into mobile payments.