The Wall Street Journal has published a profile of Apple's slow roll out of wireless mobile payments. The first feature in Apple's (presumptive) payment system came in the form on Passbook, a digital wallet that holds information such as gift cards, tickets, and other such items in a single place, which was introduced in June. Many, including myself, believed this to be just the tip of the iceberg, with Apple long being rumored to have interest in a mobile payment system.
According to the Wall Street Journal piece, Apple is deliberately holding back their mobile payment system. Still, a small group within Apple is reportedly looking to build payment technologies into the iPhone or build a new payment network. Some of the ideas considered included Apple merely facilitating transactions, to acting as a bank, to partnering with other middlemen and taking a cut of transactions.
On the hardware side of things, the iPhone team has reportedly looked into near field communications (NFC) technologies in the next-generation iPhone, but ran into concerns of battery life, vendor adoption, customer satisfaction, and of course, vendor adoption.
For now, it seems that Passbook is the compromise Apple is willing to make. They are entering the market, but with little risk. After all, Passbook is only software, and it works will preexisting barcode scanners and other payment technologies. Still, I believe Passbook is the sleeper hit of iOS 6, and will become a big deal as mobile payment technology moves forward, especially if NFC catches on with consumers.