All talk about Americans embracing mobile payments has been about the “when,” not the “if.” That manifest destiny may at last be within sight now that Apple (AAPL)has announced it will soon begin selling phones equipped with technology to support mobile wallets. That, at least, is what the digital-payments cheerleaders would have you believe.
As with many things in tech, it’s not just a matter of build, and they will use it. Just ask Google (GOOG) or Softcard, which made bump-to-pay smartphone wallets several years ago and have been waiting for customers to show up ever since. In order for mobile wallets to work, merchants have to meet the smartphone companies halfway. To accept near-field communication payments (that’s the bump-to-pay technology), stores and restaurants must install point-of-sale terminals with sensors that can talk to phones equipped with NFC chips. While most people buy a smartphone every two years, the assumption in the payments industry is that merchants are likely to upgrade payment systems about every five years.