The Fragmented Future of Mobile Payments
As with all things Internet, the future of mobile payments is going to be fragmented, making the promise of a digital wallet on your phone a lot less exciting. Having a phone act as a credit card makes things faster, more convenient and might even lead to more bargains. But the way things are panning out, only people who meet very specific cell phone, bank, and credit card company criteria can join in on the fun. Just today, Verizon blocked Google Wallet from its phones, reports The Wall Street Journal's Amir Efrati and Anton Troianovski. So for those with multiple credit cards, or without a Citi Master Card, Google Wallet can't replace a wallet, giving it a major utility handicap.
As of right now, Google's mobile payment tech only works on Sprint phones with Citi Bank Master Cards. That applies to a very specific set of people. Of course, Google doesn't have the only digital wallet replacement out there. For everyone else, there's Verizon, who has teamed up with T-Mobile and At&T to work on its version, Isis, which will begin trials next year, note Efrati and Troianovski. And Visa too is apparently in the works for its own mobile payments system, they add. We also can't forget third party apps like Square, Venmo and ZipPay, which allow users to pay others who have the app using stored credit card information. This almost works as a replacement for the wallet, and would theoretically work better than Google Wallet, if only every single place everywhere accepted Square payments -- but they don't.
So we have two types of fragmentation happening in the mobile payments world. With these "wallet" payment systems, like Google Wallet and Visa's mystery service, the service is only as useful as having that single credit card. And then the system is fracturing on a retailer level. Even with Google Wallet, only stores with the compatible card reader accept it; same with the Square-like services. While the number of retailers accepting Square has grown, as this chart posted by The Atlantic's Alexis Madrigal shows, it can't become a wallet replacement unless every single retailer has it. The same applies to Google Wallet: Not every retailer has the capabilities. Like we've seen with Netflix and streaming movies, the services are nice supplements to cable. But not yet a replacement because they all have somethings but no one has all things. The same can be applied to mobile payments. They all can be used with some credit cards and at some retailers, but we won't leave our wallets at home until we get a cord-cutting equivalent. For now, users either have to load a smorgasbord of mobile payment apps, or settle for the current half-hearted solutions.