Is There a Mobile Wallet Race, or Is It Really About Data?

Dan Dufault |

September 14, 2012

Mobile Wallet Data

As Google, ISIS, Visa, Sprint and dozens of others dominate media coverage around mobile wallets and their adoption via near-field communication (NFC) technology, thousands gathered around their computers, tablets and smartphones on Wednesday, September 12th to hear whether or not mobile payments and NFC specifically, would be key to Apple’s short term strategy. For weeks rumors swirled as to whether or not the iPhone would have NFC capability and if Passbook, which was introduced as part of iOS over the summer, would be reintroduced as Apple’s mobile wallet.

With Apple’s announcement it’s obvious that they are not ready to commit to NFC. While many are banking on NFC adoption by both businesses and consumers, the challenge remains that the vast majority of both groups do not have NFC capable devices. The number of NFC-enabled mobile devices shipped worldwide will more than double in 2012 to nearly 100m, according to Forrester Research, however, they predict that mainstream use of the technology "remains three to five years away in most countries". But, is Apple’s delayed entry due to the instability and uncertainty that still exists around NFC, or are they simply taking a different approach?

What we know for sure is that more than 250 million Americans are currently iPhone users and Apple has credit card information for over 435 million worldwide users through its iTunes service. Some would consider those numbers to be a great foundation for a mobile wallet, but is the wallet simply a ‘loss leader’ to the real jewel in the equation, consumer data? Recent reports estimate that if Google signs up 10 million customers for their wallet and processes a total of one billion transactions, they will lose an estimated $150mm dollars on interchange fees. With that said, the value of the data collected on those one billion transactions, if compared to similar valuations from Capital One or GE Money, would exceed two billion dollars.

Is Apple just bypassing mobile payments and leveraging existing smartphone and tablet technologies like geo-fencing with Passbook to own the consumer marketing space? As consumers enter their loyalty cards, travel documentation and entertainment vouchers into Passbook, the new digital wallet, Apple is gathering critical location-based access to millions, and it’s likely just the beginning.