Apple planning to offer merchants low cost NFC payments terminals?

The Apple NFC rumour mill has swung into action again today, with new speculation that the company plans to include near field communication in both the next iPhone and the next iPad — and could be planning to offer heavily subsidized or even free NFC payments terminals to merchants in a bid to kickstart a mobile payments service.

Bloomberg reports that Richard Doherty of consulting firm Envisioneering Group has told the news service that Apple plans to introduce services that would let customers use its iPhone and iPad computer to make purchases. Both products are likely to be introduced this year, Doherty told Bloomberg, citing engineers who are working on hardware for the Apple project:

Apple, based in Cupertino, California, is considering starting a mobile payment service as early as mid-2011, Doherty said. It would revamp iTunes, a service that lets consumers buy digital movies and music, so it would hold not only users’ credit-card account information but also loyalty credits and points, Doherty said.

Using the service, customers could walk into a store or restaurant and make payments straight from an iPad or iPhone. They could also receive loyalty rewards and credits for purchases, such as when referring a friend, Doherty said.

The article goes on to say that Apple is also looking at providing merchants with low cost NFC terminals:

Apple has created a prototype of a payment terminal that small businesses, such as hairdressers and mom-and-pop stores, could use to scan NFC-enabled iPhones and iPads, Doherty said. The company is considering heavily subsidizing the terminal, or even giving it away to retailers, to encourage fast, nationwide adoption of NFC technology and rev up sales of NFC-enabled iPhones and iPads, he said.

While there has still been no official word from Apple regarding any plans to include NFC in future devices, a barrage of NFC-related patent applications were published in 2010 that show the company has a clear business model in place for NFC. The patent applications include:

Google is also rumoured to be looking at plans to subsidize merchants in order to drive forward the adoption of NFC. In September, Techcrunch reported that the company had plans to distribute as many as eight million “custom mobile devices” to small businesses around the US to “allow customers to check-in and rate the businesses and perhaps even purchase items via Google Checkout.”

Just a few days after the announcement of the Google Nexus S with in-built NFC and support for near field communication in the Android 2.3 Gingerbread operating system, Google launched its first NFC-based marketing service in Portland, Oregon. The company distributed free window stickers containing an NFC chip to local merchants. When read by an NFC phone, the smart posters direct customers to the merchant’s Google Places page to find out more about the business and read ratings and reviews.

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