In case you haven’t heard, Apple announced its upcoming mobile wallet service. It will be introduced through an app called Passbook with the release of its next iPhone. The app will allow users to store loyalty cards, event tickets, and coupons in the app. The company’s intentions are somewhat unclear, but experts seem to think this positions Apple to move into mobile payments mainly because it’s not a huge leap from storing loyalty cards to storing credit cards. And consumers already trust Apple – the company has 400 million credit cards on file through iTunes, so the transition could be relatively seamless.
Apple will enter an already crowded space. Google, of course, has been offering Google Wallet for a year now. The offering is limited by the fact that it works only with Sprint on a handful of phones, with one payment card – the Citi Mastercard – and can only be used where Mastercard’s PayPass system is used. Sprint has announced its intention to introduce its own mobile wallet, and it’s unclear how that will affect the mobile relationship. Isis has been in development for almost a year, and is a partnership between T-Mobile, Verizon, and AT&T. American Express cardholders will be able to use the Isis mobile wallet, along with Chase, Capital One and Barclay cardholders. The service is scheduled to begin testing this summer in Salt Lake City and Austin, TX.
And then there’s Facebook. It’s hard to imagine that the company would actually move into the mobile wallet space. However, the company does seem to want a piece of the action, although probably most likely in the form of processing payments, rather than creating mobile wallet products for consumers. It recently moved away from its virtual currency to real money – something that the experts think is an indication of the company’s intentions to move into the payment space. And in a survey – this one by Cisco – 30% of consumers surveyed said they might one day use Facebook for banking services if they were offered. In terms of specific types of banking products, 14% said they would use a Facebook prepaid account they could reload, 8% would consider using a Facebook checking account or debit card, and 5% would consider a savings account or online bill-payment service. Despite the Cisco survey, there’s no indication that the company plans to provide traditional banking services. The company has also obtained money transmitter licenses in 15 states which are required for companies that keep, retrieve or transfer money. Additionally, any eWallet service would require a money transmitter license. The general consensus is that the licenses are an indication that Facebook plans to create a wider payment system, but guesses on the specifics vary widely.
Despite a large number of surveys done on the subject, it’s somewhat unclear how consumers feel about mobile payments. Starbucks is certainly a success story that no other retailer has been able to match. The app launched in January, 2011 and by the beginning of December 2012 the company stated that there had been 26 million transactions using the app. According to a study by the Carlisle & Gallagher Consulting group, which surveyed 600 consumers, 48% were “interested” in mobile wallets. Of those, 53% said they would prefer an alternate provider over their primary bank. But according to a survey by IDC, of consumers who have a phone enabled with Near Field Communications, only 2% are expected to use them for purchases in 2012.
The technology landscape is certainly littered with product failures. Some because of bad marketing approaches, some had fatal design flaws, and some because consumers just weren’t ready. But sometimes these product failures pave the way for the future. Remember Apple’s Newton? It was a complete flop, but in retrospect provided valuable information to make the iPad the huge success that it is. When Apple announced the release of the iPad, many naysayers talked about the failed Newton. Many of today’s mobile wallet players most likely won’t be around in the future. But most of them will probably provide valuable information on how to construct and offer a mobile wallet to consumers. Despite less than enthusiastic consumer sentiment, the mobile wallet is destined to happen sooner rather than later.