Wave-And-Pay Rumor For Apple Stores Would Revolutionize How You Shop

Rumor has it that Apple may have a big product launch ready for the 10th anniversary of its stores—and it could be NFC-enabled tech. It'd be just like Apple to try to revolutionize the shopping experience for everyone.

Apple store

Apple may be about to bring NFC wireless tech to its stores.

Employees have been attending secret meetings, their equipment has been getting software updates, and around the time of the 10th anniversary of the Apple Store, it looks like some radical new installations are happening. Because Apple is basically so mighty, and is seen as a trend-setter in both technology and tech retail, it could change everything—right down to how you shop at your local grocery store or pay for beers at a bar.

A while back Apple banned its staff from taking leave over the weekend of May 20th to 22nd, and now it's emerged that there's a staff meeting for all hands in all stores at 7 a.m. on Sunday across the U.S. There seem to be plans for a core team of more than 10 staffers to work overnight Saturday into mid-Sunday, and during this shift they'll have to lock their cell phones away in the main office, and cover the windows with blackout material so no one can see in to work out what's going on. Considering the sheer amount of glass Apple favors for its retail outlets, this alone confirms that something big is going down. Add in the fact that the overnight staff have several NDAs to sign, gigabytes of data have been downloaded by employees with a password-encoding on a special zip file, and hardware that's been received ahead of time is being kept concealed and locked up, and it begins to look like Apple has a big surprise in store.

Is this the rumored iCloud system we've been waiting for, bringing cloud-based music and file storage to Apple devices? It could be, but the plans seem extreme for a product like that.

Now sources inside Apple are suggesting that something much more interesting than that is happening. Apple's own-brand point of sales devices recently all went offline for a maintenance update, for an entire day, and there were several overnight sessions in some stores to being installation of devices in stores as "the retail segment of Apple grows." New demo tables have also been installed that have "different wiring" and appear to have checkouts built in—but aren't in use yet. It's being seen as a sign that Apple is bringing NFC wireless payment to its stores, well ahead of the curve.

But Apple doesn't have any NFC devices on sale. Yet. Is this a prelude to a future arrival of the iPhone 5, which may, after all, have NFC built in? Or is Apple going to pull the veil off a new NFC-enabled product—one that no one's expecting? One thing's for sure, Apple's Stores are such ridiculously successful business models—from their design philosophy to their sales systems—that they're already inspiring copycats, and if Apple did choose to push NFC tech in its brick and mortar stores it could set a precedent that other stores, driven by tech innovations from other vendors like Visa, would simply have to follow. Quite quickly this could change how we pay for things, everywhere—because Apple is one of the biggest companies ever, with one of the most powerful brands in the world, and all the tech needed to change how consumers do things.

[Image: Flickr user montse]

Chat about this news with Kit Eaton on Twitter and Fast Company too.

Read More: How NFC Shopping Will Save You Money While You Wave Your Phone Like A Loon

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4 Comments

  • Randomwalk

     OK, Kit, AFAIK NFC stands for National Finance Center, I had to use Google to decode your usage.  

    Wonder if Apple leaked some of the basic information so entice bloggers and writers to speculate and raise interest.  Naaa, Apple wouldn't manipulate the media like that, would it.

  • Rick Parker

     Forgot one

    2c) Dock to special dock connector on check out.  Seems like a lot of wear and tear on the connector if they roll out to more than Apple Retail Stores though.

  • Rick Parker

     Completely agree Scott.

    Couple of tweaks in my mind to your suggestion.  

    1) Bluetooth instead of Wi-Fi?  Lower range, power etc.  Already supports ad-hoc peer-to-peer in iOS.  iWallet app could no doubt turn it on whilst launched if it's not already on.  Can they figure out proximity via signal strength etc?

    2) Maybe you don't even need the notification element.  Wouldn't you open iWallet app to indicate you wanted to pay?  I guess it depends how they work out which device is attempting to pay:
    a) Wireless connectivity + secret code shown on checkout display to be typed in (iWallet app needs to be open)
    b) Wireless connectivity + very close proximity detected by signal strength etc eg. touch device to pad on checkout and/or Bump(tm)-like motion sense (iWallet does not need to be open)

  • Scott

    Why does everyone seem to think that NFC is needed for a secure iPhone POS transaction?  Isn't there enough technology crammed into EXISTING iDevices and in Apple's ecosystem already?  Here's one scenario: New "no-brainer" items to be installed/available this weekend: (1) Apple POS terminal (just another iOS device) and (2) Free iWallet app to download.  Existing pieces which go in the middle: (3) Wi-Fi for both the terminal and your iPhone to connect to a common server (already in every Apple store), (4) In-app notifications for iWallet to receive the payment request (already in the iOS version on your phone), (5) iTunes account link to make the payment (obviously you have one of these), and (6) the server farm... (maybe in that NC data center, but it really doesn't matter; any boxes will do)... Viola... 200M payment devices already in consumers' hands!
    Apple can start off with a three month "beta" program spearheaded at Apple stores (where there's no exposure to failure) and then maybe they'll even give the "terminals" to retailers for free, because *eventually* that inconvenience/expensive piece of plastic between the iTunes account and the customer will be eliminated and Apple will process the payment themselves.Think about it... why would Apple want to introduce a payment method that wouldn't be a unique advantage to their ecosystem?  This is not to say they won't eventually adopt NFC, but right now, something like this is the immediate path to mobile payments which Android cannot touch, mainly because of the missing iTunes account link.