Last week, a report from New York-based global investment news site BrightWire.com suggested that Apple's upcoming smartphone, the iPhone 6, will (finally) support near-field communications (NFC) technology. BrightWire.com cited "a source close to the matter."
As recently as 2012, Apple's SVP Phil Schiller stated that NFC was not "the solution to any current problem," so the company didn't build NFC into the iPhone at that time. Of course, that was nearly two years ago, and new problems, and solutions, exist in the today's tech world. Apple had also filed a European patent for "an electronic device with shared near-field communications and sensor structures" in the winter of 2013, which suggest it is still experimenting with NFC, at the very least.
I've been covering NFC for a long time, and other smartphone makers have built NFC into their devices for quite some time now, including Samsung and BlackBerry. Apple's hesitance to embrace the technology is one of the leading reasons NFC hasn't really taken off.
While some NFC-based features have proven to be pure novelty, one use of NFC could be particularly valuable to enterprises: NFC-based access control. This idea is not a new one; for example, HID Global, a maker of physical-access cards and readers, already offers NFC-based systems. (Read about Good Technology's experience with NFC access control here.)
The release of an iPhone with NFC could be just the boost the technology needs to take the next step toward enterprise ubiquity. Recent research from Good Technology suggests that its customers rolled out far more iOS smartphones than any other device in the first quarter of 2014, with iPhones representing 52 percent of total device activations, compared to Android smartphones' 27 percent. (It's worth noting that BlackBerry, which is still popular in the enterprise, is not included in Good Technology's numbers.)
One iPhone feature in particular could give it an enterprise edge over other popular devices: The Touch ID fingerprint reader.
When Touch ID was released last fall along with the iPhone 5S, I was skeptical because Apple wouldn't share specifics about Touch ID security. I reached out to Apple for details at that point but I still haven't heard back. (Something tells me I probably won't.) Since then, Touch ID has become my single favorite iPhone feature, because it's simple to use, works well and is very reliable. I test a lot of phones, and after using the iPhone 5S for months, typing in my password on other phones seems like an unnecessary chore.
Samsung's latest Galaxy smartphone, the S5, also has a fingerprint reader, but the Galaxy line's enterprise popularity pales in comparison to the iPhone's.
Combining NFC access control with Touch ID authentication on the iPhone 6, and other iOS devices, would add an extra layer of security to access control systems, both physical and digital. And it could go a long way toward validating NFC for the enterprise, as well as the mass market. Of course, Apple will have to open up a bit about Touch ID security and demonstrate the integrity of its fingerprint safeguards in iOS.
The release of an NFC iPhone would also lead to more developer and vendor focus on NFC-based services and features, and that can only be a good thing for both businesses and consumers, and Apple of course.