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Has Apple got to the core of m-payments?

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September 2014 should go down in the annals as the month m-payments took off. Driven by Apple’s iPhone6 announcement of Apple Pay, we have also seen the roll out of contactless payments for travel on London underground, Amazon launching a mobile payments reader for merchants, and me finally installing a banking app on my phone to keep tabs in real time on my meagre funds.

And all this before the likes of Zapp have even gone live. Already, the early players in mobile payments look a bit long in the tooth. Things have taken an almighty leap forward.

Or they have in theory. What most of the hyperbole misses is that Apple Pay is only available in some stores in the US. It is not the NFC mobile payment revolution: more it is a minor skirmish on the outside of the citadel. Whether it will work or not is yet to be seen.

Similarly with London Underground offering contactless payments via NFC cards. Its got quite a few users, but not that many overall. It is again, a minor skirmish on the outskirts of payments world.

The problem with mobile payments is three-fold. M-payments is very much at the early stages of development and many technologies are out there all competing for attention. Secondly, consumer acceptance of using the mobile to pay is quite low. It is simply something that many people are either blissfully ignorant about or very mistrustful of. And thirdly, retailers are only just waking up to the idea.

The first of these issue will sort itself out in the wash. Each tech will find its niche and will gain a usage case through osmosis. Consumers are likely to be much more aware now, thanks to Apple and to Transport for London’s high profile launches.

Retailers, however, remain another matter. Retailers know that they are going to have to go down the route of accepting mobile payments, but like oil tankers, they are usually very slow to make manoeuvres. It also requires a large investment in systems and the back end.

As our analysis piece on Apple Pay shows, the NFC play works well with US retailers as they are all poised to upgrade dated card swipe tech for Chip and PIN and are likely to get NFC thrown in. Here in the rest of the world we don’t have this luxury. So what does this mean? The growing uptake of beacons shows that many retailers are looking at how to integrate mobile into their stores. The upswell of dissatisfaction with how shops work is also prompting some technology rethinks around wifi. But nowhere do we see NFC in retailer plans.

Is the promise of Apple Pay enough to change this? Unlikely. So where does that leave m-payments? Well, exactly as it was just before the Apple announcement. And its still there for the taking. We still await the likes of Zapp with interest.

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