(MARK LENNIHAN/ASSOCIATED PRESS)
(MARK LENNIHAN/ASSOCIATED PRESS)

It’s been rumored for some time now, but the Wall Street Journal now reports it’s really going to happen: Apple plans to roll out near-field communication chips in new products for enabling easier mobile payments.

Apple is expected to debut its first smartwatch and a new iPhone on Tuesday, and both will come with NFC capabilities inside, WSJ reported. NFC is a radio-frequency technology for communicating payment information over very short-range distances, perhaps a few centimeters or an inch.

Paying by smartwatch “may be even more convenient than taking out your phone” to make a payment, Michael Misasi, senior analyst at the Mercator Advisory Group in Maynard, told me yesterday.

From the WSJ report:

The [smartwatch's] use of near-field communication, or NFC, reflects Apple’s broader ambitions for the so-called iWatch beyond health and fitness tracking, the most commonly cited use. Apple also is expected to add the wireless technology to the next versions of its iPhone, people familiar with the device said, potentially simplifying the process of connecting, or pairing, the two devices.

NFC wireless is central to Apple’s plans to offer so-called tap-to-pay into its mobile devices, allowing users to pay for goods and services using credit cards stored with iTunes, people close to Apple said.

The smartwatch is not expected to be released in 2014, according to the report.

If Apple plans to release its own mobile wallet that will use NFC, as Bloomberg has reported, it would provide stiff competition for existing players in the space—including Boston’s LevelUp, PayPal, and Google Wallet.

But the debut of NFC in Apple devices could also make it easier for mobile payments companies to attract users, since mobile payments will now be a simpler process at some merchants. LevelUp, for instance, has had NFC as part of its mobile payment readers since September 2012.

It’ll be some time before all retailers would be able to accept NFC payments, but about a fourth of retailers are expected to be doing so by the end of 2015, said Misasi, citing forecasts by Mercator. “It’s going to be the larger retailers that are going to be moving first” on NFC, he said.

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