It’s almost too easy. When you swipe the tip of a Nokia 6131 phone within a few centimeters of a PayPass reader at CVS, a small green light blinks once and ZAP, the bill’s been sent straight to your credit card account. No signature needed, no I.D., no waiting for approval, no P.I.N. code. Just a tap, and that point of sale transaction is history. Slide your phone back into your pocket and walk away with your purchases.
When Nokia and MasterCard tested out a mobile phone payment technology in Dallas back in 2003, they found that people felt a little troubled by how smoothly it all went. For generations of consumers who had grown up with ringing cash registers or at least a couple of beeps and a receipt, the silent “contactless payment” method seemed somehow unfulfilling. Test shoppers asked questions like, “Is that it?” and “Did I do it right?”
Nowdays, everyone involved in the mobile payment space, from the credit card companies to mobile carriers and select retailers, have a little more experience with the ease of what’s known as the “digital wallet” function on keyfobs and mobile phones. They are improving user interfaces and getting set to launch contactless payment systems that analysts estimate could be used by at least 30 percent of American cell phone users by 2010.