With talks of an NFC capable iPhone as part of Apple’s 2011 refresh, the natural evolution would be to use the embedded Near Field Communication chip as a digital wallet, but the proximity-aware chip may serve an added purpose to make the iPhone a bigger halo product for the Apple ecosystem. Recent leaks to Apple blog Cult of Mac reveals that the NFC chip would be embedded in both the iPhone and the Mac, allowing both devices to communicate with each other. In this manner, the iPhone could potentially serve as a data drive, storing a Mac owner’s settings, preferences, Web bookmarks, and data. Now, if you’re visiting your friend and she has a Mac and you need to use it quickly to surf the web or look up a contact, wave your iPhone near your pal’s Mac and your own personal settings would get loaded, allowing you to see the same familiar desktop as you would with your personal Mac at home with the same Web bookmarks. Take your iPhone away, and your friend’s Mac would return to her normal settings and purge your information.
The move to include added functionality with the iPhone beyond mobile payment isn’t surprising considering that the iPhone has been a halo product for Apple. By pitching the device’s ease of use in the past, Apple has convinced a few PC-based iPhone owners to make the switch to Mac OS X and purchase a Mac portable or desktop. With more tie-ins between the iPhone and the Mac, Apple could better position its other product lines and woo PC users to make the switch if the technology is safe, simple to use, and functional.
According to Cult of Mac’s anonymous source, the way that the NFC technology will work is as follows:
The Mac authenticates with the iPhone, which contains a lot of the information the computer needs, such as bookmarks, passwords and other data. The system would essentially turn any Apple computer into your own — like you’re actually working on your own computer. Same settings, look, bookmarks, preferences. It would all be invisible. Your iPhone would be all you needed to unlock your Mac. Address book would show their contacts, and the user would have full access to their information in the same manner they would if they were working from home. This same behavior extends to even showing the same desktop picture, mouse and keyboard settings, and would eventually extend to software licenses and passwords for websites such as Facebook.
It’s unclear how much of the information will be stored on the user’s iPhone and how much of that information will be stored in the cloud. Apple has been building out its data center in North Carolina, and with OS X Lion around the corner, online integration with OS X could become a reality to make the NFC system work. Cult of Mac’s source says, “This functionality is extended to access a user’s home folder, which will be stored and accessed either through storage on MobileMe or by using the Back to My Mac feature to connect to the user’s home folder.”
Whether users welcome this seamless ease of use to migrate between Mac to Mac, perhaps having access to some of their Mac’s bookmarks at home while accessing their Mac at work, is still unclear. Security challenges and the adoption rate of Macs would still need to increase to make this a worthwhile technology for users. These and various other factors will decide if this system ever gets commercialized at all by Apple, but it does present an intriguing vision of always-on connectivity and data access.