AT this point, smartphones are practically permanent attachments to our hands. But that quickly changes the moment you need to pay for something at a store and you take out a credit card. The idea of using your phone as your wallet—for storing payment methods and even swiping, scanning or tapping it to pay at the checkout register—is a long-promised future that has been surprisingly slow in coming. Multiple technologies exist for mobile payments, but there is no clear winner and a lot of chaos.
“Mobile payments, it’s been the next big thing for three or four rounds of next big thing,” said James Wester, the director of global payments research at IDC Financial Insights. “I would say we’re probably still three to maybe five years away from seeing mobile payments really common, with most of us using it.”
But recently, several new products and services have been released that could make mobile payments more convenient and worth trying. Before you dive in, though, it’s best to have a map of this complicated landscape.
Amazon introduced an experimental app last month that lets people store gift cards and loyalty cards from a variety of retailers and check some balances on Android phones and Amazon devices. You can display the gift cards as a bar code or QR code so that it can be scanned at a register.
So far, you can’t store credit or debit card information on the app. But Amazon already has a payment platform that lets you pay individuals or check out at some online stores, so the app could be a short hop away from being a full-fledged mobile payment service.
PayPal, the online payment giant, has also released new payment options, with an updated app for iOS, Android and Windows Phone that lets you store loyalty cards in addition to your regular PayPal sources. Some new partnerships PayPal has reached with some stores, restaurants and services, including Uber and Jamba Juice, also provide interesting payment twists.
People using the new app can order ahead from a participating restaurant and pay with their phones. Or if you are dining out, you can pay your bill on your phone instead of waiting for the check (and waiting for a server to retrieve your credit card, swipe it and bring it back). Many of those stores and restaurants also offer coupons as an added enticement.
At Home Depot, a partnership with PayPal lets you