You'll no doubt be aware of our (well justified) distrust for anything that passes a tech analyst's lips, but this time's a little different. Richard Doherty of Envisioneering Group cites "engineers who are working on hardware" for Apple's latest project in asserting what that project actually is: NFC capabilities are apparently being built into the next generation of iPhone and iPad devices. Contactless payments via NFC have been steadily building up in hype and adoption recently -- at least in the western hemisphere, the stuff is commonplace in Japan -- and Doherty predicts Apple will make its move into the field with some new hardware and an accompanying "revamp" of iTunes. The idea would be to allow the use of iTunes gift card balances and the credit card info Apple already has from you to make swiping payments at compatible retail outlets. Apple is said to be planning enticements, like loyalty credits and points, to get you using its service in the place of the competition, and there are already a couple of software patent applications from the company detailing other potential uses for the technology. All of which could mean absolutely nothing, of course, but this seems like an awful lot of smoke for there not to be a fire under it.