Questions still abound about Apple and NFC

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The fact that Apple chose not to incorporate NFC functionality into its iPhone 5 product came as a shock to many. The implications of that decision are still being hotly debated in the industry. As the Cupertino-based giant continues to update iOS 6, there is still no way to know whether it will finally offer NFC capability as part of Passbook service, which seems to be getting more popular.

The drama is playing out against a backdrop that augurs well for NFC services via smartphones. More smartphone makers are embracing the technology, and banks increasingly seem comfortable with Digital Wallet schemes that rely on NFC at the point-of-sale. Some NFC schemes (so far anyway) are exceedingly bank-friendly when it comes to preserving the interchange fees that are so valuable to them. Obviously, if Apple were to bundle NFC capability into its phone, it would validate the inchoate market and really ignite the portion of the industry that is betting on NFC transactions.

Indeed, one research group says Apple lack of participation has set the NFC market back by two years.

While some think that Apple's move into NFC is all but inevitable, a commentary in finextra raises an interesting possibility: What if the company isn't planning on NFC at all? What if it is bent on enabling mobile commerce via its own technology and network I a way that doesn't depend on NFC?

"Apple holds a patent for 'iWallet' which undoubtedly will be a key iPhone app in the future. However, iWallet may not use NFC, but instead an alternative software-based technology, such as that used in Passbook," it notes.

It wouldn't be a huge surprise if Apple opted for another technology solution. PayPal seems to be making strides with its non-NFC solution for offline POS transactions.

Apple will likely release its iPhone 5S this summer. Whether it will include NFC remains a big mystery. -Jim