The idea that we might someday use our mobile phones to pay for some things offline -- in stores, taxis or from vending machines, for example -- makes sense. That's been happening in places like Japan for years. And merging the mobile phone and wallet into one thing to carry around seems like a smart idea.
But getting there is going to be a challenge. In the U.S., there are simply too many corporate mouths to feed for mobile payments to be an easy consumer transition. These range from mobile software platform companies to banks to carriers to merchants.
And because there is no clear proclamation from above -- the government, a national train company, a single dominant merchant, or anyone -- about how to standardize, the nascent mobile payments industry is one of the most convoluted I've ever seen.
- Verizon Wireless and American Express just teamed up for one mobile payments scheme, using AmEx's new Serve account, which is similar to a Paypal account. You will need to be a Verizon and Serve customer to participate.
See? It's insane. And many of these companies probably have no interest in designing their services to play nicely with those of other companies. Someone is going to have to take the lead -- there will probably be a few winners and a lot of losers -- but there is no clear path yet.
Like the first e-commerce boom in the 90s, there will be a lot of money spent in the race for the mobile wallet. In theory, this will someday be to the consumer's advantage. But there will be a lot of confusion in the meantime.
Also: What's on my iPhone?