Mobile-payment proponents let out a collective sigh when Apple Inc.'s latest iPhone 4S lacked a near field communication chip. Near-field communication is a standard for wireless communications that can accommodate payments made with a tap of a mobile device.

Many industry observers believe Apple can help make mobile payments mainstream quicker thanks to the company's fanatical following. And while Google Inc.'s mobile wallet leads out of the gates at the moment, Apple is making moves to jump into the race.

The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office on Nov. 15 published 31 patents granted to Apple related to NFC technology and what appears to be a new location service that uses the global positioning system.

Apple's NFC patent covers the sharing of information between different devices, including iPhones, iPads, Mac computers and point-of-sale terminals in retail environments.

Apple first increased speculation that it planned to develop an NFC-enabled iPhone with its hiring in August 2010 of former mFoundry executive Benjamin Vigier, who played a key role in developing mobile-payment applications for PayPal Inc. and Starbucks Corp.

The company also has filed patent requests related to NFC technology and an iPhone application that would initiate mobile payments.

Apple on Oct. 4 announced the iPhone 4S at a press conference inside the company's headquarters. The new phone includes an 8-megapixel camera, a better global positioning system and a faster processor.

Apple's new CEO, Tim Cook, and other company executives did not mention mobile payments during a nearly two-hour presentation.

Since its release, Apple has sold more than 4 million iPhone 4S handsets.

Industry observers have noted throughout the year that NFC-rollout forecasts would decrease if Apple did not include a payment capability in its new phone.

However, Eurosmart on Nov. 15 said it expects NFC-device shipments to increase 50% next year, to 120 million from 80 million this year, as more handset manufacturers begin incorporating the technology into mobile phones.

And that prompted Jeff Miles, NXP vice president of mobile transactions, to say in a Nov. 16 telephone interview from Paris that "the momentum we see here assures us that NFC is the future for mobile-payment development."