NFC isn’t a new technology. Android and BlackBerry phones with NFC capabilities have been available for a while now and various companies have started looking at implementing NFC as a mobile payment or digital wallet solution. Google Wallet being the most well-known while MasterCard’s new PayPass Wallet Services, which the company announced on Monday is the newest and potentially broadest in scope
Apple, however, hasn’t shown much interest in adding NFC to the iPhone. The lack of NFC hasn’t kept mobile payment options off the iPhone – as we’ve recently reported T.G.I. Fridays and Tabbedout, Boston’s light rail commuter service, and AmTrak have all moved to offer mobile payments using the Starbucks app/virtual card model.
A new deal between Apple and location-based deals startup Pirq, to offer daily food and drink deals to the company’s employees in silicon valley could be a sign of Apple testing the waters with both a deals network and whether such ecommerce options make sense for iPhone users.
Pirq operates somewhat like Groupon but with a lot more flexibility. Pirq members can use an iPhone or Android handset to find deals in their vicinity, reserve the deal as a Microsoft Tag, have the tag scanned by staff at a restaurant (or other venue), and receivce a 20% to 50% discount.
Passport Unlimited, one of the two companies that partnered to create Pirq, is described on the startup’s About the Company page as follows:
Passport Unlimited is a 25-year veteran of providing upscale dining and lifestyle perks to more than 800,000 Fortune 500 professionals through corporate benefit programs at companies such as Microsoft and Apple. Roger Blier is the founder of Passport Unlimited, which evolved from one of his previous companies called Employee Savings, when Blier was looking for a better way to experience “doing lunch” for business. Blier successfully raised $35 million, led by Benchmark Capital for Employee Savings. The executive and sales staff of Passport Unlimited is the execution team for Pirq.
While that seems to be clear about Apple’s interest – as an employee benefit or perk (or Pirq), TechCrunch is reporting that, according to their source, the agreement is only the first part of a “four phase” project that could see Apple expand into a public deals service for Apple customers and/or iPhone owners or something more.
Apple has an existing relationship with Passport Unlimited to deliver discounts and benefits to Apple’s employees – an agreement that Pirq noted in its press release about the new deal has been in place for six years.
How much this announcement plays into any broader initiative or mobile payment solution isn’t clear. The fact that Apple has a payment infrastructure in place, in the form of the iTunes Store, however does make the idea of Apple moving into the mobile payments arena an attractive one. The company, after all, has already made that leap with its own stores. However, it is possible that this deal is simply about Apple offering a benefit to its employees.