Could Apple's Next iPhone Sport A Fingerprint Scanner for NFC?

When the iPhone 5 finally hit the masses, it was missing one major feature: NFC. While most every other major flagship smartphone has NFC and support for contact payments, bump sharing and the like, Apple's iPhone is strangely missing out. But rumors are beginning to swirl that the next-generation iPhone may finally join the herd, and evidence is building. In fact, Apple may leapfrog rivals by not only including NFC, but also a fingerprint scanner. Last summer, Apple purchased AuthenTec for over $350 million -- which is a significant purchase, even for Apple. But one of the secrets of the acquisition was that Apple forced the company to stop licensing its technologies elsewhere. AuthenTec makes fingerprint scanning hardware, so if you start to put two and two together, it sure feels as if Apple has to be consider implementing this in some way. After all, why spend that much if not for use in some iDevice?

It's easy to pass over Apple rumors. They're a dime a dozen, and analysts have been known to say just about anything without necessarily having solid sourcing behind it. But in this case, the pieces sure do seem to fit well. The simple "Slide to Unlock" and four-digit PIN code have been around since the introduction of the original iPhone, so it's surely time for Apple to take another look at security and access. Google introduced Face Unlock with its latest versions of Android, so perhaps a touch-intelligent chassis feature could help Apple regain the access edge. Beyond just getting to your home screen, a fingerprint sensor would also create the world's most secure mobile payment system. If you have to authenticate tap-to-pay payments with a fingerprint, it would be nearly impossible for a thief to spoof your prints and steal money via your phone. Or would it?  A little dust and tape could lift a print or two pretty easily.  Security is always a tricky area.  Though perhaps this is also where Passbook grows up and becomes something greater than just a holder for gift cards and the like.

In any case, we'll probably find out around Q3. Will it be the iPhone 5S, the iPhone 6, or something else entirely? Best guesses can be filed in comments!