March 30, 2011

There's plenty of talk behind the concept of mobile NFC payments enabled through a smartphone-as-digital-wallet. The concept of the mobile wallet is linked to the future of mobile banking and payments in general.

But talk is cheap. The closest thing to widespread contactless payments still requires a physical card with MasterCard PayPass or Visa PayWave baked in. The Samsung Nexus S, running Google's Android OS, is one of the only mass market phones in the U.S. with an independent NFC chip built in. Apple said it won't include NFC in its next iPhone one day, while the next, a report said it will. Meanwhile carriers, vendors and payments providers are all racing to build their own widespread network of NFC payments.

The technology is there, the interest is there. So where are our mobile wallets?

One opinion from Sybase is that the idea of NFC mobile wallets is overhyped. The Baltimore Sun reports that the race between competing interests to develop a solution has led to stagnation.

It's all so difficult.

At its Innovation Gallery Walk last night, one of the things Intuit was demonstrating was a mobile NFC payment between two Nexus S devices. On one end the user was able to select which card or account they wished to make a payment from, while on the other, software stood by to receive approval for a funds transfer as payment from the other device. It was simple, uncomplicated and showed that it can be done with existing technology. The engineer demonstrating the capability said all the technology was there and the mobile OS was more than capable of handling such a transaction simply and securely.

The ability to use a phone as a mobile wallet isn't science fiction. But the competing interests of carriers, hardware manufacturers, vendors, payments providers and mobile OS developers, all who want a cut of the action might make it so.

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