U.S. Patent No. 8,215,546, entitled "System and Method for Transportation Check-In," was granted to Apple this week. First filed with the USPTO in 2008, the invention describes a system for ticketing and identification via near-field communications on a portable device like an iPhone.
"The handheld device may store and transmit travel reservations and traveler identifications using a travel management application," the patent reads. "Various methods may be employed to acquire the reservation and identification information on the handheld device."
In one example, users can make travel reservations via the so-called "iTravel" application. Similar data can also be automatically retrieved from an e-mail, a website, another NFC-enabled device, or a carrier-provided confirmation number.
The system could also identify a user by scanning a radio frequency identification tag embedded in a government-issued ID, like a passport. An ID number can also be entered via the travel management application, prompting the "iTravel" application to download the user's identification information from the issuing authority.
Illustrations that accompany the patent show an iPhone equipped with a near-field communications chip. The iTravel application is depicted with an icon of an airplane on the iOS home screen.
The iTravel concept is a more full-featured implementation of Apple's new Passbook application, which will be part of iOS 6 when it launches this fall. Unveiled in June, Passbook organizes various items like movie or sporting event tickets, store membership cards, and airplane boarding passes.
Passbook will feature geolocation with the iPhone, allowing users to automatically have the appropriate card pulled up when they visit a specific location. For example, when a user goes to Starbucks, they will see their membership card available to scan.
The unveiling of Passbook has prompted speculation that Apple plans to add a near-field communications chip to its anticipated sixth-generation iPhone, expected to debut this fall. With wireless NFC capabilities, Apple's next iPhone could serve as an e-wallet and e-ticketing device.
Apple has been rumored for years to include NFC technology in a future iPhone, but to date no iPhone models have included an integrated NFC chip. Competing handsets, like Google's Nexus S, have included NFC chips, but e-wallet payments have yet to take off with services like Google Wallet.