Apple Patent Hints at iBeacon-Based Mobile Payment System

Source: USPTO.govA newly published patent from Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) shows that the California-based company is still very interested in using the iPhone as a so-called “e-wallet” for a wireless mobile payment system, reports Apple Insider. In a patent titled, “Method to send payment data through various air interfaces without compromising user data,” Apple outlined a secure mobile payment system that would utilize several different types of wireless protocols.

As noted in the patent abstract, the invention focuses primarily on the various types of steps that would be taken to ensure that the payment data transmitted from an iPhone would be protected during a retail transaction. “The method first establishes a secure link over a first air interface by a purchasing device. This secure link is between the purchasing device and a point of sale device,” stated Apple. “The method further identifies a second air interface, which is different from the first air interface, and the second air interface is used to conduct a secure commercial transaction.”

According to the patent claims, the transaction would be initiated by a “first secure link” that could be accomplished via near field communication (or, NFC) technology. However, the “second air interface” would be used to securely send the payment data to a backend server. Although Apple does not specify the wireless protocol that would be used for the “second air interface,” the patent noted that Wi-Fi and Bluetooth were both possibilities, since they are both capable of communicating data for a longer period of time than NFC.

It is quite possible that the second secure link will be accomplished via Apple’s iBeacon micro-location technology. The iBeacon system uses the Bluetooth Low Energy communications standard to send notifications to mobile devices based on their proximity to a transmitter.

After a buyer’s payment information is sent via Wi-Fi or Bluetooth to a backend server, the server uses a “shared secret” known only to the mobile device and itself in order to verify the buyer’s identity and their payment information. Apple noted that transmitting the payment information without the use of a mobile phone’s “application processor” was necessary because “data in the AP can be intercepted and compromised by rogue applications.”

Although NFC has been widely adopted by other mobile device manufacturers, Apple’s iBeacon technology has recently been making inroads into various markets. Macy’s (NYSE:M) implemented Apple’s iBeacon technology in several of its retail locations, while Major League Baseball has explored the use of an iBeacon-based navigation system for its stadiums. Apple already uses an iBeacon system to send shoppers product information and other alerts in its retail stores. Although it is not known whether or not Apple will ever implement this particular retail shopping system, the expanding use of Apple’s iBeacon technology may one day make the iPhone an essential part of a future mobile payment system.

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