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Visa, NatWest & RBS bring NFC technology to iPhone users via TouchPay

Britain's NFC revolution continues apace, with two of the UK's largest banks, NatWest and RBS, commencing preliminary roll out of a new contactless payment service set to benefit owners of the iPhone 4 and 4S.

The banking duo selected a group of 1,000 customers from a pool of some 9,000 applicants, with trials of the TouchPay system – developed in partnership with Visa Europe – now underway and scheduled to last for a period of three days.

Owners of fourth and fifth-generation Apple handsets can apparently expect a full release of the service in "the near future" if the ongoing tests prove a success.

"TouchPay has proven incredibly popular and shows that our customers want more flexible and convenient ways to pay. Delivered alongside our updated mobile apps, the TouchPay service means that our customers need only carry their smartphone with them to make payments and manage their finances wherever they are," said Ben Green, head of mobile at RBS.

The lightning rod of the next-gen service is a humble accessory. Developed by Wireless Dynamics, iCarte is an NFC-enabled smartphone cover compatible with the iPhone 4 and 4S and embedded with the chip necessary to power contactless payments.

Customers simply attach the smart sleeve to their device and follow the on-screen instructions to set-up the service. Once they have download the necessary app and completed the activation process, they are able to utilise their smartphone for purchases of £20 and under, at participating contactless retail outlets.

There's no word on when Android, BlackBerry or Windows Phone 8 devices might be privy to expedited sandwich purchasing, though presumably the NFC-enabled covers can be easily optimised for most devices now that the core technology is in place.

"A key industry challenge in bringing mobile contactless payments to consumers is finding ways to enable existing smartphones that do not offer NFC technology. Services like TouchPay show how NFC-enabled accessories for smartphones can deliver the future of payments today and help hasten mainstream adoption," added Sandra Alzetta, SVP and head of mobile at Visa Europe.

Once iPhone 4 and 4S owners start reaping the benefits of 15 seconds a day saved at the supermarket checkout, we'd expect the iPhone 5 to be next. Handsets from other manufacturers - like the Galaxy S3 and forthcoming Nokia Lumia 920 - have less of a need for TouchPay and the iCarte cover, as NFC technology is generally a native feature of more recent mobile hardware.

Earlier in the year, stablemates NatWest and RBS introduced a card-free cash withdrawal service that also prominently featured a smartphone app.