As soon as smartphone makers began adopting Near-Field Communication (NFC), the concept of using the tech to facilitate wireless payments began to bloom. Not coincidentally, Apple found itself receiving criticism for not adding the standard into the iPhone. Because of this, mobile payment tech has become a hot-button issue for critics who argue that Apple isn't keeping up with the rest of the smartphone industry.
Three days ago, however, The Wall Street Journal reported that iTunes and App Store chief Eddy Cue personally met with unnamed industry executives to talk about getting involved with handling payments for goods and services. Whether or not this directly involves NFC remains to be seen, but it at least indicates that Apple is working on moving forward with mobile payments in some shape or form. The publication also reported that the company is shifting some of its executives into roles that will help build some sort of payment business; this isn't the first time we've heard whispers that Apple was looking into the industry, and it's much more likely to rapidly expand going forward.
Tie these rumors in with Cook's declaration that mobile payments were a driving force behind Touch ID (Cook didn't specify how much of a force, but the topic was at least a part of the discussion), and then consider Apple's inclusion of services like Passbook and iBeacon location sensors, and everything starts to make sense. The company has been hard at work providing a foundation for a possible mobile payment option, and Touch ID is just another logical part of the framework.
The company has been hard at work providing a foundation for a possible mobile payment option, and Touch ID is just another logical part of the framework.
Combining biometrics with wireless payments seems like a natural match, but security and privacy are still significant hurdles that the company needs to jump over before it can become accepted by the masses. Apple is convinced that Touch ID is more secure than any other method of identity verification. Much of the public, however, was not as easily persuaded when the iPhone 5s was announced. The response from the public was mixed, varying anywhere from praise to skepticism and, in some cases, to anger; Senator Al Franken even got involved in the discussion, sending Cook a letter addressing the potential privacy concerns involved.
Part of the solution is simply waiting for the right time to dive in. As more Touch ID-enabled iPhones are sold, the feature will continue to become more used and accepted, and most concerns will be soothed. More and more people will start using Touch ID to pay for iTunes purchases as they get comfortable with the feature. Given that iTunes made more than $2 billion this past quarter, it's not too hard to visualize the benefits of Touch ID progressing into other moneymaking ventures for Apple.
Even though today's statement by Cook wasn't an official guarantee that his company is diving into mobile payments, it'd be silly to expect Apple to just sit idly by in the coming years. With features like Touch ID, Passbook and iBeacons laying the groundwork for a future service, it's pretty clear that this is an area of intense interest for the company. The next step is to determine when and how to slice up its piece of the pie.