Mobile payments adoption in U.S. could take years

One expert predicts widespread adoption of the technology might not occur until 2020

SAN DIEGO -- A panel of mobile wallet experts predicted a slow pathway to user adoption of technologies such as Near-Field Communication in the U.S.

In fact, widespread adoption will take as long as eight years "at best," Dekkers Davidson, the head of mobile commerce for Barclaycard US, said Thursday.

Davidson told an audience at the MobileCon mobile IT conference here that it would be five to eight years before even a quatrter of Americans are using mobile wallet applications. He noted that it took eight years to reach that level of adoption in Japan.

Davidson and other mobile commerce experts on a conference panel said that part of blame for the slow adoption lies with consumers, many of whom in the U.S. are wedded to credit cards. Making the transition to smartphones that are NFC-ready for making payments at an NFC-ready terminal or other technology is simply not a high priority, they said.

"No consumers are really asking for [mobile commerce]," said another panel member, Ryan Hughes, chief marketing officer for ISIS. ISIS is a partnership of three wireless carriers -- AT&T, Verizon Wireless and T-Mobile USA -- now deploying NFC payment terminals and related technology for use with NFC phones in Austin and Salt Lake City.

Davidson said his prediction might change if big mobile commerce players such as Google or ISIS -- or a new Merchant Customer Exchange (MCX) of major national retailers -- have a big impact. Even so, "I don't see a [mobile commerce] winner taking all for a really long time," he said.

Mike Love, the chief technology officer for Mozido, added that businesses building mobile wallet systems should not "presume that consumer adoption is going to happen." Mozido builds white-label mobile wallet systems for banks and other businesses and has a number of mobile commerce pilots under way.

A representative for MCX, Dodd Roberts, added that "consumers may not know that their experience engaging in commerce could be so much better than it is now." He recalled that Henry Ford remarked that Americans didn't know they would want an automobile before it was introduced, and when asked what they wanted would have replied: a faster horse.

Tayloe Stansbury, chief technology officer for Intuit, said small merchants have a clear need for mobile technology, since 55% of them aren't enabled to accept credit card or e-card payments. Intuit processes 1 billion invoices a year through the use of checks from small retailers and businesses, "which is very inefficient," and believes small firms should move to electronic systems, possibly through mobile wallet.

The evolution of Passbook, an application in Apple's iOS 6 that is available in iPhone, has given some mobile commerce advocates hope that Americans will slowly begin to use their smartphones to carry retailers' coupons and payment cards digitally. They could then move up to storing credit cards on their phones.

Matt Hamblen covers mobile and wireless, smartphones and other handhelds, and wireless networking for Computerworld. Follow Matt on Twitter at  @matthamblen or subscribe to Matt's RSS feed. His email address is mhamblen@computerworld.com.

See more by Matt Hamblen on Computerworld.com.

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