The iPhone as a login device for any computer? Not really a far-fetched idea

If a rumor is true, Apple could make the next iPhone a lot more than just a smartphone.

Can a device like an iPhone serve as a single point of access to all your information? Login credentials, applications, preferences, and safely secured passwords – could a phone hold all of that and make it accessible for you on any computer in the world?

It sounds like a science fiction fantasy, but Apple may be planning to make it a reality. Amid a lot of speculation of NFC testing as a way paying for goods and services with devices like cell phones, Apple has been testing the idea of using NFC as a login mechanism for Macs. It sounds far fetched, but Apple has already laid the groundwork to make it a reality in Mac OS X.

Apple already supports what it calls portable external accounts on Macs. The concept, primarily aimed at enterprise installations, allows for user accounts to be stored on a portable device like an external hard drive of USB flash drive (Apple's documentation even includes iPods as a solution). Sit down at a Mac, whether you've used it before or not, plug in your drive, and login – your entire home folder (complete with documents, photos, settings, and even applications) is available and the environment is customized to your preferences.

In enterprise environments that include Mac OS X Server, setting this feature up this is not only possible, but relatively easy. External accounts can be a huge boon for education markets where student data for science projects is stored on a local device rather that on a single computer or transferred over the network. While this concept of external accounts hasn't gained too much traction, extending the concept to work wirelessly via something like NFC shouldn't be particularly challenging for Apple. iPhones and iPads could allow a seamless transition from dorm room to classroom. Or even from home to office. If Apple really believes in the enterprise market, this could revolutionize the employee owned device concept in ways most enterprises haven't even dream of. And it isn't too big a stretch to imagine the company extending it into the consumer space as well as the enterprise. Is this Apple's goal? Will it catch on it is? Only time will tell.

Ryan Faas writes about personal technology for ITworld. Learn more about Faas' published works and training and consulting services at Follow him on Twitter @ryanfaas.

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