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Will you be able to swipe your iPhone 5 like an Oyster card?

Near-field communications is an incredibly easy way of paying for stuff, and patents suggest it could be that next year's iPhone 5 will use it

Apple is reportedly researching technology that could allow iPhones to be used to pay for things wirelessly, with just a swipe.

Apple has hired a chap called Benjamin Vigier who works in near-field communication (NFC), a technology which sends wireless data from chips within devices such as the Tube's Oyster cards to payment terminals or other devices, according to Businessweek.

Apple has already built NFC-enabled prototype iPhones, and is testing mobile payments, sources told TechCrunch. Nokia has already trialled NFC in the UK with the Nokia 6215.

In the case of an iPhone, a small chip would be included which would allow it to send the data to payment terminals when you simply swipe the phone over a pad.

This is of obvious use in terms of small payments for things like sandwiches or confectionery, but it could also be used to buy train or bus tickets -- think of your iPhone being swiped like an Oyster card.

Next year looks to be when we might really see NFC in action, as Nokia has already said that all its 2011 smart phones will be NFC-enabled, a clear differentiator from the iPhone. NFC has been common in Japan's mobile phones for a number of years, with Sony feliCa.

Apple has already hooked up millions of your debit and credit cards to iTunes, so you can see how effective a NFC-enabled iPhone 5 could be.

Barclaycard has already made long strides to push NFC to the masses -- stores such as Eat and Pret take small payments from NFC chips built into its credit cards -- in a partnership with Orange.

The problem so far has been that not enough people use it in the UK, so retailers don't need to rush in payment terminals. O2 and Barclaycard already tried out an 'O2 wallet' with a phone, Oyster card and wallet all in one, but it never took off.

But if Nokia and Apple enable next year's smart phones with NFC technology, you can see retailers rushing to put the payment terminals in place for owners to use them.

For you, it means your phone could be your wallet -- you wouldn't need to carry cash or even a card if there were enough places to use these phones.