updated 10:40 pm EST, Fri January 24, 2014
Future buyers could scan code with iPhone camera, pay with iTunes credit
A report in the Wall Street Journal suggests that Apple CEO Tim Cook and senior VP of Internet Software and Services Eddy Cue have been holding meetings and discussions with other technology business leaders regarding an Apple-branded mobile payment system. Buyers could, for example, simply scan a product barcode using their iPhone, confirm the purchase, and instantly pay for it through their iTunes or linked credit card accounts.
The model for the concept is already at work in Apple retail stores, where customers who have the Apple Store app on their devices can scan and pay for any item in the store using a system called EasyPay. If true, the move would be a logical step forward from the work Apple has already put into its iTunes infrastructure, Passbook e-wallet technology, and iBeacon Bluetooth-powered hardware.
Starting with iOS 7, Apple has included native barcode-reading ability in iOS, which lets users scan iTunes gift cards for instant credit on their accounts (rather than typing in complicated alphanumeric codes), and lets third-party developers incorporate barcode scanning into inventory databases and other types of programs. The cameras in smartphones are already accurate enough for basic OCR, QR code, and other types of information scanning. Retina displays produce codes accurately enough for them to be read with handheld scanners.
The Passbook app, Apple's implementation of e-wallet technology, is currently used mostly to redeem tickets, passes and coupons -- though it can also store loyalty cards, and could easily be adapted to store credit cards or gift card information as well. The company has also introduced Touch ID on its latest iPhones, and a synced "iCloud keychain" that encourages the use of complex passwords, and is secure enough to store credit card and other sensitive data. Tying iCloud keychain and Touch ID to Passbook would create a system that can store private information, but would be unusable to anyone but the authorized owner, even if the device fell into the wrong hands.
In addition to iBeacons creating a method to allow POS transactions that verify the "instant purchases" with merchants, the company has patented a number of systems of mobile payments, including secure "touchless" options. In combination, the proposed Apple system would present a few advantages over Google's failed NFC initiative -- starting with the over 500 million iTunes accounts already tied to credit cards that Apple has on file (a figure that grows by at least 100 million each year). This user base would also convince merchants to sign up for Apple's system (a number of companies outside of Apple have already been piloting iPhone and iPod touch-based payment systems, and more are signing up to use iBeacons).
Apple's established bank of users who already have credit information with iTunes and know how to use the system to pay for things would make establishing mobile payments much easier than requiring users to set up a new system and get used to new technology from scratch. A number of efforts have been made by retailers and tech companies to collaborate on easier payment systems, but none thus far have taken the market -- or consumers -- by storm.
(thumbnail photo via Pocketlint.com)