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New iPhone reportedly packs NFC capability

next iPhone wireless
Devin Coldewey / msnbc.com

The list of features said to be making their way to the new iPhone has grown by one today; Near-field communications (NFC), used for transmitting small amounts of data like credit card numbers over very short distances, is now in the mix, according to 9to5Mac.

The capability was rumored before when patents and design documents came out that mentioned it, but Apple has patented and designed many a device or component that never saw release. That said, the rumor today springs from slightly more reliable sources: software supposedly running on iPhone prototypes that has identified NFC as one of its components.

There are a few NFC-capable phones on the market already, the most prominent of which is probably the Galaxy Nexus, Google and Samsung's latest flagship phone. However, the feature has gotten little play as yet, owing to a lack of support by, well, the world.

NFC is pitched as a secure way to exchange information between two devices that are in very close proximity: within an inch or so. This would allow for all-digital payments and data swaps as quick and easy as swiping a credit card, something Google hoped to popularize with its Wallet service. But very few locations in the wild have actually opted into the system, and few phones have it available – which means that stores with the capability and consumers with NFC phones are unlikely to encounter one another.

How Apple would overcome this obstacle is anybody's guess, but their new PassBook app in iOS 6 would be a natural fit. And since the new iPhone is guaranteed to sell a few million units, retailers and airports and the like might finally feel it's finally worth the effort to install NFC-capable registers and consoles.

Devin Coldewey is a contributing writer for msnbc.com. His personal website is coldewey.cc.