As rumors go, I'm betting the latest are on the mark. According to AppleInsider, The China Times has reported that the iPhone 5S, rumored to arrive this summer, will come with both a fingerprint sensor and near-field communication chip. According to the report, you'd be able to simply touch your phone to make a payment. The sensor would recognize your touch, and the NFC chip would communicate your authorization to an NFC mobile payment terminal at the point of sale. Such terminals are increasingly common, and a large number of Android phones already include an NFC chip.
AppleInsider cited a market analyst with a good track record of foretelling iPhone features who said the fingerprint sensor will be located under the phone's home button. You'll simply place your thumb over the sensor, and your phone will verify your identity. In addition to authorizing transactions, the NFC chip can be used for other purposes, such as to replace password access. Other features expected in the iPhone 5S include a more powerful processor and an improved camera. The device is expected to have the same form factor as the current iPhone 5.
Buttressing the rumor of a fingerprint sensor, Apple recently bought AuthenTec, a company that specializes in this technology.
Last year, rampant rumors said the iPhone 5 would have an NFC chip, but instead Apple came out with Passbook. Apple's response to NFC was that it "doesn't solve a problem." Passbook is gradually catching on, and can come in quite handy. AppShopper has cataloged nearly 300 apps compatible with Passbook. Simply search for Passbook on the AppShopper website. You can narrow your search by category, such as Entertainment, and by other criteria. Also, AppleGazette has a categorized listing of a selection of some of the more useful Passbook-friendly apps. Again, in order for Passbook to receive a vendor's passes, you need to also have the vendor's app installed on your device.
The advantage of Apple's Passbook is its broader use and versatility than simply making an NFC payment. You can use Passbook for your Starbucks Card, check what coupons are available while shopping at Target, and present them at checkout to receive your discounts.
Maybe Apple has decided now is the time for NFC. Frankly, mobile payments haven't yet caught on in a big way. Each time I've tried to use my Android tablet to make a mobile payment, the clerk has said, "No one has ever done that before. I'm not familiar with how it works."
Many in the industry are waiting for Apple to make its move into this arena, which could precipitate wider adoption. Apple usually does things right. And in this case, the combination of Passbook, a fingerprint sensor, and NFC chip could be quite effective.