Near-field communication is old-hat technology to seamlessly pay for stuff with phones in Europe and Asia. Now, it might finally take off here. First, Google and now, according to Bloomberg, Apple's building NFC payment systems for iPhone and iPad.

Richard Doherty, director of the consulting firm Envisioneering Group, says that Apple's planning to let you use iPhones and iPads to buy stuff using NFC, which he says will be embedded in the next iPhone and iPad. His info comes from "engineers who are working on hardware for the Apple project." Apparently, Apple's already prototyped "a payment terminal that small businesses, such as hairdressers and mom-and-pop stores, could use to scan NFC-enabled iPhones and iPads," which it would "heavily subsidize" or give away to retailers. (Giving away the machines, combined with the new system for debit card fees mandated by the Durbin amendment would make it relatively painless for retailers to let you use your iPhone to pay for stuff.)

I was a little skeptical about Google's efforts to push NFC in the Nexus S succeeding on a broader scale, given that they had NFC in a single phone—notably, none of the new whizbang Android phones from CES appear to have NFC powers—but Google is apparently going full-bore on NFC payment systems. If Apple also pushes NFC for payment systems just as hard, or even harder than Google—particularly given its magical ability to get partners like Starbucks to accept new systems of things—NFC might actually stand a chance here.

It's a no-brainer that mobile payments are one of the next Big Things, like location. (See, for instance, all the hype over Square, Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey's mobile payments startup. Or PayPal quickly trying to move into the space. Or Starbucks new iPhone app payments. One wonders what an Apple and Google push into mobile payments means for all of these things, though.)

Given the way Apple already acts like a kind of middle man, dealing with payments for things like music and software with iTunes and the App Store, why not grab a slice of payments in the real world too? Imagine using your iTunes account to pay for basically everything. I'll believe all of this for reals when I see it happen, of course, but the possibilities are both very real and very wild. [Bloomberg]