Amongst the many products Apple unveiled at this year's WWDC was Passbook, an app that collates a user's coupons, tickets, and payment cards for easy access. It's a distinctly pared-down app compared to what some of Cupertino's competitors are offering, but according to a recent Wall Street Journal article the path to Passbook consisted of many months of internal debate that had senior executives deciding to eschew NFC payments outright.
The WSJ reports that Apple began exploring mobile payments last year, right around the time Google debuted its own Google Wallet system. The company reportedly explored several approaches, including integrating pre-existing payment services into the iPhone, and the concept of Apple building its own payment network itself, leveraging the 400 million credit card accounts it has on file through iTunes. Apple was allegedly hesitant to become a payment service due to the logistical complexity of such an endeavor. In terms of monetization, one discussed approach — reportedly known within Apple as the Superman III option — had Cupertino partnering with existing payment services and profiting by taking tiny cuts of transactions that utilized Apple's hardware as a front-end.
According to the WSJ, Apple Senior VP of iOS Software Scott Forstall had simultaneously begun working on an app with his team that could work as a smart wallet, collecting different payment methods and cards, and suggesting to users what payment method to use at a given retailer based on what savings they could take advantage of. Daily deal integration was reportedly also on the table.
On the hardware side, the WSJ states that Apple engineers experimented with both NFC and Bluetooth 4.0 Low Energy options, but were concerned that the inclusion of an NFC chip and its antenna would adversely affect battery life — a common refrain when Apple declines to include features in its handheld devices. The slow rate of NFC's adoption was also said to be an issue, with Apple hesitant to adopt a technology that would only be available at a small number of retailers.
An NFC mobile payments system was reportedly torpedoed altogether in a senior-level meeting earlier this year, with Apple CFO Peter Oppenheimer said to favor the pursuit of alternative technologies. With Google Wallet and ISIS continuing to plow ahead, and both Sprint and Microsoft working on their own solutions, the battle for mobile payment mindshare is just beginning. Passbook seemingly serves as a stripped-down version of Apple's original app vision, and with the iPhone 5 most certainly just around the corner, we wouldn't be surprised if we got a glimpse at Apple's NFC alternative in the coming months.