This past March, Apple was awarded a patent for an application called “iWallet.” If you haven’t heard about it already, the iWallet will allow users to purchase retail items without a cash register. It is not unlike a near-field communication (NFC) payment center, which allows users to swipe their mobile device over an NFC-enabled terminal to pay for an item instead of having to pass a credit card through a magnetic runner. The difference is, according to analyst Pablo Saez Gil at ResearchFarm, the iWallet will take advantage of Apple devices’ Bluetooth 4.0 so that users don’t have to walk anywhere or swipe anything in order to pay for their new goodies.
Currently, Apple has done away with the traditional cash register at their retail stores. If you’ve been in one lately, you may see a few confused customers, holding an accessory in hand and looking around for a counter where they can wait for a cashier to ring them up. If the store isn’t bombarded with soon-to-be Apple initiates, a friendly employee will walk right up, swipe the customer’s credit card and let them walk right out of the store without having to stand in line. With the release of the Apple Store app, customers can actually purchase their item before they even walk into the building and just grab it off the shelves and walk out. The iWallet plans to streamline the purchasing process even further.
Apple has yet to adopt the NFC capability in their devices and the reason appears to be that they plan to revolutionize mobile payments with the iWallet combined with Bluetooth 4.0. The newest Bluetooth version offers low-energy capabilities so that users can keep the device searching while they visit a store. When the time comes to make a purchase, they can just open the iWallet and pay for it. What is even more convenient is that Apple doesn’t have to do anything different with their devices. There is no NFC chip to be added. All iPhones and iPads have come equipped with Bluetooth 4.0 since mid-2011. When its ready, deployment of iWallet will be a matter of downloading an app and nothing more.
John Brownlee at Cult of Mac says that Apple will probably never adopt a NFC chip because of its upcoming iWallet. The app will be connected to users’ iTunes account so that Apple can take advantage of getting a cut of the sale instead of letting the credit card-controlled NFC terminals get the fee. Basically, iWallet will turn Apple into a mobile payment company.
Apple tends to set the standard by which all others compete, but when it comes to finance, I don’t think major credit card companies are going to let Apple take over. It may be more convenient for retail shop owners and customers, but when have credit card companies ever worried about convenience.
No, I think the iWallet will be a big hit inside Apple retail stores, but just like the way retailers have not adopted Apple’s pay-wherever purchasing routine, they won’t adopt a payment option that will take money from credit card companies and give it to the tech giant. They may be willing to let Apple control what apps they can download, but they won’t break from tradition enough to rework their entire point-of-sale system. The current cash register purchasing institution is too widespread to fall. There may be a handful of new independent retailers that will adopt Apple’s iWallet payment system, but this will not revolutionize the payment industry.
There are too many variables. Not everyone owns an iPhone. Not everyone wants to link their daily retail purchases with their iTunes account, especially when account hacks have been known to happen and the only thing Apple does about it is tell you to change your password. Not everyone will be comfortable with sending credit card information through the air.
The traditional cash register will continue to be just that, traditional. The iWallet system will be a great benefit to small companies that don’t want to be a part of big banking credit card companies, but the future of retail will not bring an end to long checkout lines at Christmas time. At least you can use your iPad to keep you occupied while you wait to be rung up.