Apple's secret plan to join iPhones with airport security

Style News Wire | 9/19/2012, 9:59 p.m.
[caption id="attachment_69888" align="alignnone" width="300" caption="Apple's vision for its app, according to U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, shows an icon in ...

[caption id="attachment_69888" align="alignnone" width="300" caption="Apple's vision for its app, according to U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, shows an icon in the screen's lower right labled "iTravel." Apple is releasing a mobile wallet app called Passbook which could lead to some of the ideas suggested in these iTravel patent schematics, which were submitted in 2008. The patent was granted last July. "Empty pocket" travel apps would eliminate the need to carry credit cards, airline tickets, boarding passes, baggage claim stubs, car or hotel reservations, or even personal identification. Click through the gallery to see more."]

Style News Wire

What if you found yourself stuck alone at a faraway airport -- with no money, credit cards or ID? How easily could you fly back home again?

You might survive if you had a smartphone. Emerging "empty pockets" technology is increasingly allowing travelers to use their phones to make purchases, book flights, check in and board planes.

Wallets? They're so 2008.

Delta, American and United are already big into electronic boarding passes on smartphones, and stragglers like JetBlue are planning e-boarding programs in the near future.

But is a post-9/11 world comfortable with the idea of merging personal cell phones into the airport security network?

Apple -- still basking in the afterglow of last week's iPhone 5 curtain raiser -- is also unveiling Passbook, an app which organizes e-boarding passes, flight reservations, coupons and other documents.

But Apple has a much more grandiose plan for its empty pocket dreams, according to public U.S. Patent and Trademark Office documents. Read the patent document (PDF).

For example, imagine checking bags with your cell phone -- or passing through security by flashing an official driver's license or U.S. passport displayed on your phone.

Outside the airport, envision using just your phone to rent a car or to check into a hotel. How about using your phone as an electronic hotel room key?

But let's get real, say industry experts and government officials. As cool as all these ideas sound, extending Apple's technology and influence to airport baggage tracking and TSA security would be unprecedented.

"I'm always kind of staggered by the scale and complexity and the ambition that they have," says mobile phone industry analyst Nick Holland of Yankee Group.

As you might expect from the secretive folks at Apple, they wouldn't talk to CNN about the patent documents. But we did grab some time with "Apple Insider" reporter Neil Hughes, who covers nothing but Apple, including its patents for future products.

"Security may be the biggest issue," says Hughes. Carrying all your personal ID and travel documents on a single device would be very tempting for skilled password hacks, says Hughes.

Related story: Your smartphone will eventually be hacked

The concept

The 2008 patent application was approved in July and filed under the working title "iTravel." Hughes suspects the iTravel concept will be folded into Apple's Passbook app, which will be available for download on Wednesday. Right now, Passbook will store electronic versions of airline boarding passes which will automatically pop up on iPhone screens when you arrive at the airport. The phone knows where you are, thanks to geo-locator technology.