(NEW YORK) -- Shoppers dread long checkout lines -- and so do retailers, so they are increasingly turning to tricked-out, high-tech devices that bust lines and save time.
Apple led the way with its specialty credit card-reading iPod Touches that enable payment anywhere in a store, and retail experts say that's only the beginning. Apple might soon one-up itself with new "wave-to-pay" Near Field Communication (NFC) technology, and industry watchers say big box retailers are preparing to usher in a new era of shopping that puts mobile technology at the center of a shopper's experience.
"One of the biggest challenges that traditional retail has is the fact that very little has changed inside the store compared to the dramatic changes that retail has seen on an online experience," said Marshal Cohen, chief industry analyst for The NPD Group, a New York research firm. "The store has to change the experience."
While those changes may come in different forms -- from devices that enable mobile checkouts to programs that roll credit cards, loyalty points, and coupons into your cellphone -- Cohen said they'll start to emerge as experimental, progressive initiatives in the next year and graduate to an everyday self-checkout-like alternative in the next year-and-a-half to two years.
In the buildup to the 10-year anniversary of Apple's first retail store Thursday, tech blogs speculated that the company might unveil a new NFC payment system in its nationwide stores.
Citing "multiple Apple sources," the tech blog Boy Genius Report said that, ahead of its big anniversary, the company required store employees to spend "overnights" in its retail locations, making all kinds of secret preparations, including installing tables with different wiring.
The blog said one possibility is NFC-enabled devices that can beam and receive information within a distance of up to four inches. Instead of swiping plastic to pay, customers could just wave an NFC-equipped phone near a compatible reader and the purchase amount would be deducted instantaneously.
While NFC-enabled Apple tables would need NFC-enabled iPhones and other i-devices to work, rumors earlier this year suggested a next-generation iPhone would come equipped with the technology. At the time, Apple declined to comment on those rumors and the company did not respond to a request for comment for this latest rumor.
Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio