iPhone 5s Gold, Standing, Back

Apple has seemingly ever been convinced that NFC is worth including in its iOS devices. Nearly every new big smartphone has it, yet Apple refuses to jump on the trend. Last year, instead of introducing an NFC-equipped iPhone 5s, the company devised AirDrop functionality in iOS 7, giving users similar functionality without needing tweaked hardware. So will the next iPhone be any different? A few patents suggest Apple is very much interested in what NFC could offer iOS users, including the ability to easily gift friends and family media (apps, music, movies, etc.) by tapping phones together.

The first patent—iTunes gifting via NFC— describes a method in which iOS users could tap devices together to gift each other movies and music. Neat functionality, sure, but something that adds value to the iOS platform? Not necessarily, especially when it's already easy as it is to gift media to others—NFC would just introduce an actual physical interaction with another NFC-equipped iOS device. It could certainly be used in other situations, too, like passing along photos, videos, and more, but Apple has AirDrop that takes care of that, so, again, the notion of tapping devices together might not be needed in the iOS ecosystem.

Apple's second NFC patent deals with mobile payments, which hasn't really been popular enough to consider a "success" just yet. Google Wallet has promised a brighter, wallet-less future, but thus far we haven't seen much change—enough to warrant leaving your cards at home, at least. Apple's patent details a situation where the NFC technology would perform a "handshake" with a payment terminal, and then switch to another wireless system to complete that transaction. When you bring Apple's Passbook into the equation, that opens up a lot of possibilities, and certainly seems more enticing than bumping devices with friends.

Patents are never a sure indication of what to expect in the future, but occasionally we do see something make it into the final product. The next iPhone is still months away more than likely, so we'll have plenty of time to mull over whether or not Apple will bestow NFC upon its iPhone 6. Apple has always maintained that NFC isn't at that stage where its use is justified, especially when the company has options like AirDrop. As far back as the iPhone 5, Apple said customers are unlikely to notice NFC is even there. But that might change when the next iPhone hits—or these patents could just be for a "what if" scenario that will never happen.