The U.S. Patent Office granted Apple a nifty new patent yesterday that could potentially have an impact on the way that many of us travel. The rather vague filing describes a number of unique ways that an Apple designed device could potentially interact with a check-in system used by airlines or other modes of transportation.
The patent, which was originally filed in 2008, outlines the use of Near Field Communication (NFC) protocols to interact with check-in systems using an app that was originally called “iTravel.” That app would be able to transmit data from an iPhone, iPad or iPod Touch that could potentially confirm the identity of the person using it, finalize flight reservations and possibly even allow access through security checkpoints.
NFC technology has been around for some time but is just now starting to gain some acceptance in consumer products. The technology uses radio signals to allow two devices to share data with one another simply by touching or being within close proximity. Some experts believe that NFC could potentially replace the credit cards we carry in our wallets by allowing us to use our smartphones to pay for the things we want to buy. Others see it expanding further and being used for everything from subway passes and toll booths to sharing contacts and photos with friends and coworkers.
There has been heavy speculation that the next iPhone, due out in the fall, will include NFC capabilities. That speculation was fueled even further when Apple recently introduced a new app called Passbook that enables users to electronically organize and store everything from airline boarding passes and consumer loyalty cards to movie tickets and gift certificates. The iTravel app mentioned in the patent filing resembles an early version of Passbook, which is also scheduled to be released in the fall.
There is no doubt that smartphones have made our lives simpler in a lot of ways. But the inclusion of NFC technology and the kind of functionality that it can bring has the potential to be just as revolutionary. It remains to be seen if this patent will actually become a reality, but if Apple doesn’t do something similar, I’m sure someone else will.