Will We Ever Be Able to Pay With Smart Phones?

Given all the fantastic things we can do with our smart phones and mobile apps these days, one wonders why mobile technology has yet to completely do away with the need to carry a wallet.  Sure, Android users have access to Google Wallet provided they use it at “participating vendors,” Starbucks developed its own mobile wallet and loyalty app, and it’s nice to be able to use a phone as a sort of personal EZ-pass at airport security checkpoints (when their card readers aren’t on the fritz), but we’re still a long way away from being able to wave our phones at subway turnstiles or gas pumps or vending machines and get the products we’re trying to buy.  When will that happen?

By 2020, many experts agree, though for an industry moving at the speed of mobile tech, seven years seems like an awfully long time.  A lot of that has to do with the fairly entrenched territorialism involved in unifying systems and accounts in a way that works for everyone, and mobile payments can’t truly become a reality until they’re universally accepted.  If we get to the point where only Android users can buy gas at Shell stations, or only Verizon subscribers can take the New York City subway, everyone’s still going to need to carry their pocketbooks.

The second problem is technical.  Mobile payments rely on something called Near-Field Communications (NFC).  At a recent tech conference in Barcelona, Spain, the NFC Guru Reed Peterson dreamed of a day when the consumer goes into a store and says “Show me only the phones that have NFC.”  That seems unlikely, at least for now, as Apple remains the last major smart phone manufacturer not to include NFC technology into its iPhones.  It’s difficult to imagine such a fundamental shift in the way cell phones are used if Apple and its legions of iPhone junkies aren’t on board.

It’s also telling that at the Barcelona conference, 70,000 participants were asked to use the NFC technology in the event’s turnstiles in order to facilitate their access, and almost none of them did.  And as long as those in the industry still aren’t comfortable with it, we can assume it’s not coming to the rest of us any time soon…alas!

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