Apple Could Polish RFID’s Image

Rumors are rife that the company will add RFID capability to its next phone, which could be a big deal.
Published: November 18, 2009

Last week, technology bloggers were all abuzz over rumors that Apple plans to add radio frequency identification capabilities to its iPhone. The company has not yet confirmed this rumor, and I have no idea whether it’s true or not, but if Apple were to build RFID into its iPhone, that could be a very big deal for the RFID industry—or it could be meaningless.

In 2007, we reported that Apple had filed a patent for a system in which an RFID transceiver (interrogator) built into a Wi-Fi-enabled access point or base station, such as a wireless router, would read an RFID tag inside a network device, such as a computer or mobile device, to exchange data that would initiate a process for linking the wireless network device into a wireless computer network (see Apple Applies for Patent on RFID-based Network, Security Tool). It’s not known if this is related to the rumors of RFID in the iPhone.

Apple could be planning to use an RFID chip embedded in the iPhone to initiate Wi-Fi connections. That would not be a very big deal, especially since most routers don’t currently have readers. Another possibility might be using the transponder to activate the phone at the point of sale, which could reduce theft (if the phone won’t work until activated by an RFID reader, there’s no point in stealing it). If that is the case, it could encourage other electronics firms to adopt RFID for the same purpose. This, also, would not be a huge deal for the RFID industry, however.

But if Apple is planning a consumer application for RFID, it could be important, particularly if it is partnering with a company that could create some critical mass. I recently commented on Disney‘s decision to spend $1 million per store in order to make them more interactive and fun. Part of that upgrade will include RFID (see Disney Gets It).

I’m entirely speculating here, but what if Apple and Disney, which have a close relationship, are teaming up to make the iPhone a tool for interacting with items in Disney’s stores?

The two companies could go even further, adding tags to Disney movie posters, so that an iPhone could read a tag and download information. Or perhaps Disney could offer special giveaways: “Scan the tag on our poster and win free tickets to our next blockbuster.” There are some intriguing capabilities that would get over the problem of there being not much to do with an RFID-enabled phone.

This would be a big deal for RFID, because people who think the technology is useful only for companies like Wal-Mart would now see it as something cool. And that could unleash a wave of customer applications that could transform RFID from a “Big Brother” technology to a “way-cool” technology. I don’t know if that will happen—but if any company could make RFID cool, it would be Apple.

Mark Roberti is the founder and editor of RFID Journal. If you would like to comment on this article, click on the link below. To read more of Mark’s opinions, visit the RFID Journal Blog or click here.