How many mobile wallets do you need? Many of us might say none, thank you very much, our credit cards work just fine. But service providers see a revenue opportunity in loading those cards into smartphones, and banks are paying them to do it. By tying mobile wallets to retailers’ loyalty programs and discounts, service providers hope to make them useful shopping tools.
This week two new players entered the mobile wallet space. Yesterday Apple announced that a new Passbook app that will be part of iOS 6. The app will store the barcode from almost any type of paper or plastic pass, from an airplane ticket to a coupon. Passbook will store some retailers’ payment cards so that users can pay at those establishments without cash or credit cards. Participating retailers include Target, Starbucks, Fandango, United Airlines, Amtrak, and of course the Apple Store, according to The Verge.
Apple unveiled Passbook yesterday at its Worldwide Developers’ Conference. During the same presentation, the company said it now has one-click access to more than 400 million credit cards through iTunes. So it seems very possible that Passbook could offer users the opportunity to load credit cards, if and when Apple can bring more retailers on board to accept credit card payments from Passbook.
Also this week, NFC Times reported that Sprint Nextel is set to launch its own mobile wallet. Sprint is the only one of the top U.S. carriers that is not part of Isis, the mobile wallet joint venture formed by Verizon, AT&T and T-Mobile USA. Sprint was initially part of Isis, but dropped out in 2010 and later joined forces with Google to offer the Google Wallet. But now it appears that Sprint may want to control the wallet itself.
Of course competition should be good for pricing, meaning that carriers won’t get a chance to charge banks outrageous fees for this service (and if there’s an industry facing more pressure than the wireless carriers now, it’s probably banking.) On the other hand, competing mobile wallets give retailers more choices so it’s unlikely that any one provider will capture the majority of the nation’s retail business anytime soon. So whichever mobile wallet you have, it’s unlikely to be as widely accepted as your credit card.
Follow me on Twitter.