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A closer look at whether Apple’s iPhone 6 could have NFC

Despite all of our wildest hopes and dreams, Apple has yet to grace the iPhone with what could end up being one of its most important hardware upgrades. Once again, however, it looks like there may be a chance we’ll see NFC on the new iPhone later this year.

The last two releases of Apple’s flagship smartphone have seen a lot of fingers being crossed for the inclusion of NFC. Since nearly every Android, Blackberry, and Windows Phone has had the tech built in for well over a year now, it was hard to imagine Apple not joining in on the fun. The biggest reason Apple hasn’t bothered yet is because no one has been able to truly justify the technology to users. While geeks use it to do all sorts of fun things, there’s nothing out there – aside from the hope of a future filled with smartphone payments – that has been even a little exciting to the average consumer.

If Apple’s latest patent filing is any indication, it could be that smartphone payments are finally interesting enough to consider iOS integration.

The recently discovered patent is one of two that Apple has filed specifically for NFC transactions. The first, which was discovered late last year, was for iTunes gifting via NFC. The idea that you could tap your phone to someone else’s phone and gift them a song, movie, or game is an incredibly cool notion, but not really enough to justify adjusting the hardware profile of the iPhone.

The next patent covers mobile payments, where NFC is used as a sort of handshake with a payment terminal which then switches to another wireless system to complete a transaction. This could be woven effortlessly into Apple’s Passbook, which already makes it very simple to store cards and tickets digitally.

So might we see all this in the next version of the iPhone? While it is still months and months away it has been Apple’s pattern to revamp the design and give the phone a new number after the “S” moniker has expired. If this next phone is in fact the iPhone 6, it seems likely that there will be an updated hardware design that could support an NFC chip. Alternatively, this could be aimed at the all-plastic “C” line of iPhones that were launched last year. The plastic makes it easy to transmit things like NFC, whereas the metal design seen on the 5S would complicate things.

It’s all still very much up in the air, but the potential is clearly there.