One of the big revenue generators for the IT and telecommunications industries going forward that few people have heard of is the drive to have devices - smartphones, mostly - become vehicles for mobile payments.
Undoubtedly, the most important step will be whether the iPhone gets into the game. Indeed, even direct competitors or members of those companies' ecosystems eager to squeeze monies out of this area recognize that the key will be whether or not Apple makes a move. It's a business either way, but how it evolves rests to a great extent with Apple.
That, however, isn't stopping other entities from moving ahead. Verizon, AT&T and T-Mobile's Isis joint-venture plan, when it was formed late last year, involved using near-field communications (NFC) to enable mobile devices to act as "e-wallets" and compete with established payment card players. The plan, according to Near Field Communications World, has shifted and now Isis will work with those companies.
The move to NFC by the payment card players themselves - in other words, the companies that dominate the industry as it currently is configured - suggests a universal recognition that NFC will be powerful and perhaps a game changer.
Another big move - but still not the Apple move - is set for Thursday as reported by Bloomberg. Google will announce that an NFC-based system will be available on Sprint-Nextel phones. The story says that Sprint is working with VeriFone Systems and ViVOtech and handset makers on the service, which will roll out in New York City, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Chicago and Washington, D.C.
Apple has been alternately rumored to be ready to take the NFC payment card plunge and to bypass it.
ZDNet's Jason O'Grady discusses what Apple - the "Hamlet" of the electronic wallet sector - may do:
On one hand Apple has a track record of leadership in mobile technology and it's probably irritated that Android was first to release NFC-based smartphones, but on the other hand Apple has been reticent to adopt technology before there is a critical mass to support it (witness the original iPhone's lack of 3G). Apple could easily sit this one out and skip adding NFC to the next iPhone entirely.
The revenue numbers thrown around by NFC proponents are impressive to staggering. It would be surprising to see Apple, which of course is being increasingly pushed by Google and others, leave that money on the table.