For at least a year, it's been rumored that the iPhone 5 would have a near-field communications (NFC) radio chip, which could eventually be used to support electronic payments or other proximity-based services. But a new iOS 6 app -- Passbook -- unveiled at Apple's recent Worldwide Developers Conference is seen by some as a precursor to a more fully developed e-payment infrastructure for the iPhone, an infrastructure that may not need a chip at all, at least at first. See also iPhone 5 release date, specs and rumour round up.

Reporting for The Telegraph, Christopher Williams notes that Passbook was promoted by Apple as an easy-to-use container for various documents with associated barcodes, such as movie tickets, airline boarding passes and the like. Coupled with location data, Passbook can tell when you arrive at the airport, and retrieve the boarding pass, for example. Visit New iPhone 5 to have flexible display.

"Although it has received limited attention compared to the new MacBook Pro or the new maps in iOS 6, Mark Moskowitz of JP Morgan identified Passbook as one of the highlights of the WWDC keynote. 'We think that these software-driven services stand to augment the end user's experience and underscore Apple's increasing impact on the digital life,' he said. 'In our view, Passbook is the precursor to what we have referred to previously as 'iPay' for mobile payments.'" Go to iPhone 5 will "launch" in September.

Smartphone archrival Samsung has an NFC chip in its new Galaxy S III phone; Google is promoting its app and in-store system, Google Wallet.

Yet NFC-based mobile payments remain only a small fraction of transactions. Williams notes that Apple could take a software-only approach, at least initially. "Apple may not even need to rely on NFC to take the lead," he writes. "PayPal's mobile payments app, inStore, introduced last month, uses barcodes to verify payments in stores, so Apple could also take that approach until consumers become more comfortable with [NFC-based] 'wave and pay' purchasing."