iCarte Turns the iPhone Into an RFID Reader

Earlier we reported that the next generation of iPhone might have an RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) reader built in, if rumors prove true. Well, there’s no need to wait that long, if near-field communications (NFC) is what you’ve got a hankerin’ for. Wireless Dynamics has announced a device called the iCarte that will add both RFID and NFC capabilities to the iPhone.

The device adds functionality to the iPhone via the dock connector, to which it connects without adding too much bulk or without being too much of an eyesore. In fact, it looks like the iCarte’s designers went out of their way to make sure the add-on looks like it’s a natural extension of the iPhone itself, rather than an apparent third-party accessory.

A chip embedded in the iCarte turns your iPhone into a portable electronic wallet, able to process contactless payments. It can also transmit any information it receives directly to enterprise databases using Wi-Fi or 3G network connections, so that orders and purchases can be automatically input into your company’s home server. Of course, in order to use the iCarte, you’ll need to be using iPhone OS 3.0, since only the latest major software update supports dock accessory connectivity.

The iCarte also has a mini-USB port to allow for pass-through charging and syncing, so you won’t have to constantly remove and replace the device, and it comes in both black and white, in case fashion is a concern of yours. To be clear, while Wireless Dynamics does talk about business applications, it looks like the iCarte’s functionality is aimed primarily at people on the consumer end of the retail equation:

iCarte has an embedded smart-chip that can be configured as debit, credit, pre-paid and loyalty cards, for secure contactless transactions. iCarte can also read NFC Smart Posters, download or upload electronic coupons, tickets or receipts. iCarte is ideal for iPhone users who want to use their iPhones for fast and secure contactless payments, transit payments, loyalty rewards, checking balances, top-up, discovering new services from smart posters or kiosks and exchanging information with other NFC phones.

iCarte’s web site is devoid of information regarding an official release date or pricing for the receiver, although it does offer contact info if you’re interested in finding out more about the tech. Presumably a companion iPhone application would be required for programming in payment card information, checking balances, etc., but as of yet no such app is available via the iTunes Store.