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]