A new patent from Apple provides loads of information on Passbook and hints at the possibility of using near-field communications with the app.
Published today by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, the patent, dubbed "Integrated Coupon Storage, Discovery, And Redemption System," goes into great detail about a system that lets you manage and redeem electronic coupons on a mobile device.
As described in the patent, such a system could trigger an alert on your phone when you're near a store where a saved coupon can be used. It could also alert you when you're using your device to buy something.
Passbook currently allows you to store digital coupons on your iOS device so that you can redeem them at different stores and merchants.
Apple's own App Store supports Passbook-enabled gift cards. Such companies as Starbucks, Coupons.com and Major League Baseball have also tapped in to Passbook.
Some of the features explained in the patent are already part of Passbook; some are not. But one feature Apple has yet to adopt for the iPhone is NFC, or near-field communications.
Already built into several competing phones, NFC functions as a "digital wallet" by communicating with other NFC devices, allowing you to pay for items directly through your phone.
"The electronic coupons may be redeemed in a number of ways, including scanning an image displayed on the mobile device, communicating with a wireless network, or through an integrated near field payment system offered by the location," Apple said in the patent.
Apple watchers have been speculating about when and if the company might integrate NFC into its mobile devices. Some early rumors suggested the iPhone 5 might come equipped with the technology, but such was not the case.
In many ways, NFC is still in its infancy and struggling to gain a foothold as a new method for mobile payments. And Apple typically doesn't jump on such bandwagons until they've been around awhile.
Still, the reference to NFC in the patent shows that Apple is at least considering the technology as a viable option for future Passbook transactions.