MasterCard's emerging payments leader, Ed McLaughlin, may have been inadvertently pushed into fueling the off and on rumors of the iPhone getting NFC (near-field communications) support. When discussing adoption in an interview with Fast Company, he made the unusual statement that he didn't know of any phone maker that "isn't in the process" of implementing MasterCard's PayPass NFC system. When pressed on whether that included Apple, he stopped short of admitting a partnership but implied that Apple was a partner.
"Um, there are...like I say, any handset maker out there," McLaughlin said. "Now, when we have discussions with our partners, and they ask us not to disclose them, we don't."
He also agreed that the industry likely needed Apple to make NFC a mainstream feature. The technology is already in action in the US today for wireless payments, but it's currently limited to just the Nexus S 4G on Sprint and only with Google Wallet. Isis' cross-platform service is only starting up this year.
McLaughlin was careful not to mention Apple and noted that any "consumer-focused" firm of the kind would likely want to use NFC. His statements didn't equate to admission. Even so, the circuitous statements have still fueled suspicions, especially given a history of elusive responses from companies that have deals with Apple but are barred from discussing the agreements in public.
Apple has a number of NFC-related patents in progress and has at least been exploring the idea. The short-range technique could be used both for payments as well as for device-to-device pairing and transfers. Google already uses NFC on the Galaxy Nexus and future Android 4.0 devices for Beam, a trick that lets users share web links or other content just by putting two phones together and tapping a confirmation.