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Those who follow Apple closely say an NFC chip could differentiate the next iPhone from its predecessors. Such technology would also quiet detractors who were concerned that the new phone wouldn’t offer much incentive to upgrade from last year’s iPhone 4S.

Even so, an insider told The Wall Street Journal last month that Apple remains reluctant to commit to any specific technology or facet of mobile payments.

The latest news nevertheless shows that Apple is clearly staking out its position on NFC, while remaining less clear on the timing of any NFC product, says industry analyst Todd Ablowitz, president of Centennial, Colo.-based Double Diamond Group, LLC.

“Apple is establishing some unique NFC facets for its future deployment, but also protecting themselves with patents so they don’t get sued when it is time to roll it out,” Ablowitz says.

As for a prediction on NFC in the next iPhone, Ablowitz says Apple may feel it is ready now, or could wait another year. “I could see it going either way, and either way is viable,” he says.

Meanwhile, rival wallets are gaining momentum. Google last week redesigned its mobile wallet to make it easier for consumers to enroll credit and debit cards. Square this week received a $25 million investment from Starbucks Corp. and a commitment from the coffee chain to use its Pay with Square mobile wallet in stores.

Apple “will be keeping an eye on something like Pay with Square as an example of something good and reliable for the customer experience,” Ablowitz says.

American Banker, September 13, 2012