Apple hires Near Field Communications expert

Sun, Aug 15, 2010


Steve Jobs once famously said that he’s as proud of the products Apple doesn’t release as he is of the products they do release. In other words, one can only imagine the cool gadgetry Apple has floating around in its secretive labs, draped in black cloth. And while some Apple prototypes may certainly never see the light of day, an RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) capable iPhone seems to be of growing interest to Apple.

A few months ago, Einar Rosenberg, who heads up the Near Field Communications Group on Linkedin, cited a highly reliable source and wrote that Apple had built iPhone prototypes with built-in RFID readers.

So its not full NFC but its a start for real service discovery and I’m told that the reaction was very positive that we can expect this in the next gen iPhone.

That was back in November 2009, and though the feature obviously didn’t make it into the iPhone 4, who’s to say what will tricks Apple will have up its sleeve when the next iteration of the iPhone rolls out.

As a quick refresher, an RFID enabled iPhone would enable users to pay for goods at supermarkets and services such as toll booths simply by waving their iPhone over a payment pad. One can currently find RFID technology in credit cards, passports, and even as a means to track herds of animals in the wild.

Back in April, a patent application from Apple surfaced describing a “Concert ticket +” feature whereby users could use their iPhone as a virtual ticket to enter concert venues and also purchase food, merchandise, and even exclusive concert footage. The feature, as described in the Apple patent, makes use of, you guessed it, RFID tags.

Now comes a report via Near Field Communications World that Apple recently hired Benjamin Vigier, a near field communications expert, to head up its mobile commerce division.

Benjamin Vigier has been working on NFC technology since 2004 and has been responsible for NFC activities at both French mobile network operator Bouygues Telecom and flash memory manufacturer Sandisk.

Most recently Vigier was product manager for mobile wallet, payment and NFC at US mobile payments specialist mFoundry. There he conceived and managed both the PayPal Mobile service and Starbucks’ barcode-based mobile payments service and was also responsible for the development of mobile wallet applications for two top US mobile network operators and an NFC wallet application for a top three US bank.

It’s unclear what type of products or features Vigier will be working on specifically, but the hire indicates that Apple is getting increasingly serious about exploring the use of NFC technology in its mobile products. Indeed, as the competition in the smartphone market grows stronger, it’ll be software that will truly differentiate the iPhone from the mass of increasingly popular Android handsets. Not surprisingly, Jobs and other Apple executives have reiterated time and time again that they view the iPhone primarily as a software platform.



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