A Near Field Communication patent application Apple Inc. submitted 18 months ago might demonstrate how future iPhones would make contactless payments at the point of sale.
The application describes a way to initiate NFC transactions without worrying about at which angle the user is holding the handset.
The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office published the patent application last week, revealing an antenna design that transmits NFC signals from the top, bottom, front and back of a mobile phone.
Generally, consumers with NFC-enabled phones have to hold the phone in a certain manner for it to communicate with other NFC-enabled devices. For example, early users of the NFC Ring provide tutorials on how to find the phone's "sweet spot" to unlock it with NFC.
Apple has never built an NFC antenna into its iPhone and iPad line of products, though rivals such as Samsung and Blackberry have supported NFC technology for years. Recent news suggests that Apple is getting ready to make a formal push in payments.
Apple executives have openly expressed an interest in payments, especially with a nearly 800 million iTunes accounts to serve as a foundation. And the company is reportedly working with China UnionPay for a project in China involving an NFC iPhone.
An earlier patent application from Apple published on Jan. 16 included discussions on how NFC hardware could be a key component of a "method to send payment data through various interfaces without compromising user data."
Apple has long declined to comment about any of its NFC patents or payments-related rumors.
The antenna design patent application, first submitted in November of 2012, may have its roots in the 2010 "Antennagate" scandal. Early users of the iPhone 4 found that they could interrupt its signal by holding the phone a certain way, and Apple eventually mailed $15 settlement checks to affected users following a class action.
The new patent application describes how the antenna would work with nearby receivers as well as those at a farther distance.
The wireless communications technology may include radio-frequency transceiver circuitry and antenna structures. The radio-frequency circuitry may include NFC circuits operating on an NFC band, and also for "far field communications" such as cellular, WiFi or satellite signals, Apple says in its application.
These antenna structures may be used to form "a NFC loop antenna" that could handle NFC signals, Apple says. The antenna design calls for the NFC and far-field antennas to be shared on the handset and configured in a way to allow signals for all angles.