2012
07.11

As a techie, it’s always fun to be on Apple-patent watch. Yesterday, the company was awarded several patents from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, one of which—“System and method for transportation check-in”—details a potential new connected solution for travelers.

First filed in September 2008, Apple has apparently had this NFC (near-field communication) use case on its radar for quite some time. In the patent, Apple identifies “iTravel” as a name for its potential travel-management application, which would work with travelers’ NFC-enabled connected devices to offer a system for transportation check in, automating what Apple calls the “ticketing and identification” process.

Essentially, we’re looking at an automated system for booking, reserving, and boarding planes, trains, and any other relevant method of transportation. It also appears the system could be used to check in at hotels, rental-car lots, etc., all via NFC. The system would work with iOS-based devices such as Macs, iPhones, iPads, and iPod touches by storing your information and transmitting it to another electronic device when in range.

Straight from the patent, Apple suggests: “traveler identification information may be transmitted electronically to enable faster security verification during check-in. The traveler identification information may enable automatic lookup of the traveler in a security database, thereby reducing the inconveniences of incorrect identification.”

The patent document also outlines a potential scenario where a security checkpoint, equipped with an NFC reader and possibly a display that could be monitored by a security official, registers travelers’ information as they pass the checkpoint, simply holding their handheld devices within range.

Imagine the ramifications at the airport if Apple follows through on the idea (and do we really doubt it will?). We could simply file through the checkpoints without getting stuck behind fellow travelers who misplaced their passports or boarding passes, and without even having someone scan an eticket on our device. In theory, security would be tightened thanks to the automated data exchange between our devices and the airport’s database once we pass the NFC checkpoint.

Apple’s latest patent comes at a good time, the company having recently announced new iOS 6 features such as Passbook, which will hold digital versions of coupons, loyalty cards, movie tickets, and yes, boarding passes all in one place on your device.  According to Apple, Passbook will let you scan your iPhone or iPod touch to check in for a flight—which is a great segue to iTravel if you ask me. The missing piece thus far is NFC-enabled iOS devices.

Passbook will become available this fall, but no word as to when the company may bring some version of its iTravel solution to market. Rumors do suggest the next iteration of iPhone will support NFC, which could open the door for this application and others such as mobile payments.

As always, I’m looking forward to what Apple has up its sleeve.

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