Making the case for an NFC-enabled iPhone 5

Over the years, we have become accustomed to Apple’s, mostly Steve’s, “one more thing…” announcements following major keynote presentations. For those of you unfamiliar with the “one more thing” additions, they often come as a closing cherry on top of an already excellently run presentation. However, even though these additions are just thrown on at the end, they have been major product changes or even whole products themselves. Even Wikipedia celebrates this tactic, calling the Apple presentation’s “Stevenotes.”

While we have not enjoyed any Steve-inspired “one more thing…” announcements since his passing, Apple still enjoys keeping their newest and most ground breaking features an absolute secret. The upcoming September 12th keynote, which is yet to be officially announced, is now rumored to be solely about the iPhone 5 and potential iPod updates. So that leaves me guessing, what is next? The final killer announcement at the upcoming iPhone event will certainly be excellent, as many news sources have speculated the iPhone 5 announcement will be one of the largest in mobile history. After scouring through news and even analyzing patent images, we may be looking at Near Field Communication as the final knock-out punch…

One More Thing… A Steve History

To frame my prediction, walk with me through a short timeline of small add-on nuggets in Apple’s keynote presentations. The trend started in 1998, when Apple announced their all-important return to profitability during the MacWorld Expo in San Francisco. This last second addition to the presentation did not change technological history as we know it, but it did mark a significant turning point for what began the modern era of Apple.

Jumping forward several years, the 17″ iMac G4 was the icing on the cake at the 2002 MacWorld, New York. Moving ahead, the MacBook Pro shocked the MacWorld Expo as a one more thing addition in 2006. Hardware is not the only highlight to be revealed as a last second addition. In 2010, the iPhone was blessed with FaceTime video conversations. But, what next?

September 12, 2012

Where does that leave us for the upcoming announcement? Earlier, we published a rumor roundup infographic from our friends at that does a great job of coupling all of the recent iPhone 5 predictions, including whether the event will actually be held on September 12.

Aside from the standard equipment upgrades (i.e. RAM, processor, Bluetooth), the major players are the new mini 9 pin dock connector, smaller SIM tray, completely new form factor (including bigger screen), in-cell displays, relocated headphone jack, and NFC technology. Aside from NFC, we have seen very convincing information crop up, especially over the last week, to lead us to believe most, if not all, of these upgrades will be seen in the next generation iPhone.

NFC + Apple

Although, no conclusive NFC rumors have stacked up recently, we began reporting NFC potentials last year when a new Apple patent highlighted a quick pay option utilizing an iPhone. Claims since were spotty, but seem to lead to an excellent potential.

NFC is currently the least rumored detail for the upcoming September 12 announcement, which makes it a great candidate for a final jaw dropping announcement. The show-stopping announcements are almost always shattering new features and upgrades to existing products.

Most people immediately think “payment method” when they hear “NFC,” but that is only the beginning of the fun. NFC will completely change the way users interact in a myriad of environments.

As outlined in the WWDC 2012 announcement, Passbook will be an iOS 6 feature that could easily be powered by NFC technology. Interestingly, after the Passbook unveiling, around July 10, U.S. Patent and Trademark Office granted Apple a patent for iTravel, which will transmit check-in and traveler information via NFC. Two weeks later, Apple is granted another NFC patent that enables an iPhone-controlled connected home.

More recently, Apple acquired NFC and smart sensor maker AuthenTec for $356 million. Even though the acquisition was too recent to implement AuthenTec goodies like fingerprint security scanning, it will certainly protect Apple from other industry copycats, like Samsung, from offering similar smart sensor technology. As with several new technologies, Apple tends to acquire the companies for which it wants strict access to its technology. For example, Apple acquired several mapping companies shortly before announcing its new map app iOS 6. Thus, the acquisition of an NFC company, further pushes my belief it will be included in the new iPhone.

Design Confirms Suspicion?

At this point, we have seen a lot of the internal iPhone components, but no sign of an NFC chip. It is being kept extremely secret due to the impressive capabilities Apple will unlock for not only paying at the register, but also for an entirely new way to interact with objects.

“Where would the chip be located?” is not as important as “can it be included in the new form factor?” Interestingly, the NFC patent drawings scattered throughout this article all have one hardware item in common. The alleged NFC chip is always depicted in the upper left hand corner of the iPhone and always labelled the same hardware number “34,” except in the iWallet drawing. Now, that could simply be the easiest place to depict the new feature. After all, the location of the chip is not necessarily important for the patent filing, as the patent is for the function, not the physical placement of the chip.


However, all of the patents are strikingly consistent. In collaboration with the potential placement of the chip, one would be keen to note, the new front facing FaceTime camera is rumored to move just above the earphone speaker. Sunday night, new images were released of a partially assembled iPhone 5, which show the centered camera with flex cables located on the camera’s left side (iPhone top right). It is possible the camera and corresponding components are being moved to make room for the new NFC chip, which according to the patent filings, will be placed where the current front camera is located. The above image may even contain square chip, located in the bottom right hand part of the picture below the flex cables for the camera.

Further substantiating the NFC chip’s location is the sudden relocation of the iPhone’s headphone jack. While I originally thought the move of the 3.5mm jack was simply a reminiscent move back to the original iPod Touch, the moved part adds credence for NFC. After conversing with our own Sebastien Page, if the patent drawings are spatially accurate the relocated jack even further confirms the speculation. Moving both the front camera and the headphone jack, which is currently also located in the top left corner, would provide ample room for the new NFC chip and connecting pieces.

The Waiting Game

NFC information has slowly leaked over the past year, but nothing conclusive is decided. Considering the acquisition of AuthenTec, Passbook, and several related patents, it is only a matter of time before NFC will be included in the iPhone. In addition the new form factor, relocated headphone jack, centered front camera, and leaked dock connector/3.5mm jack ribbon, all signs point to NFC as part of the new iPhone.

The odds are stacked in favor of NFC, but we’d love to hear your feedback. Let us know your thoughts in the comment section below!