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Apple’s Rumored iPhone 5s Could Jump Start Mobile Payments

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, consumers spent an estimated $2.4 trillion on their credit cards in 2012. That’s a fertile market that is in the cross hairs of the growing mobile payment industry. Fueling that is the continued growth in the global smartphone base, particularly among Gen Z (18-23 year olds), Gen Y Millennials (24-32) and Gen X (33-46). According to Comscore (SCOR), those cohorts have mobile phone penetration greater than 95% with 61%-72% of respondents having a smartphone.So smartphone penetration is high in the under 35 age group, but are they willing to use their devices to pay for things? Turns out that data from consumer research firm Harris Interactive shows that at the end of 2012, 13% of poll respondents have either paid in this manner themselves or witnessed it firsthand. That jives with data from eMarketer’s view that in-store mobile payment transaction volume in the U.S. during 2012 totaled $640 million, up from $170 million in 2011. Likely players contributing to that robust year over year growth include Square, eBay’s (EBAY) PayPal and Starbucks (SBUX).

That’s a drop in the bucket compared to the $2.4 trillion spent on credit cards last year, but consumer acceptance bodes well for the explosive growth seen in 2012 to continue. The Harris poll revealed that two-thirds (66%) believe smartphone payments will eventually replace payment card transactions.

While consumers tend to gravitate toward what is easiest, they do have concerns – half of the Harris poll respondents said they don’t want to store sensitive information on their phone, and 40% don’t want to transmit sensitive information to a merchant’s device. One preferred solution among consumers is using a PIN or password. According to comScore, 44% of consumers preferred that approach, which is being used by PayPal at retailers including Home Depot (HD), Foot Locker (FL) and JCPenney (JCP).

As the saying goes — where there’s smoke, there’s fire. With the Apple (AAPL) rumor mill once again kicking up, some capabilities in the would be iPhone 5s could help Apple reclaim its smartphone crown. I’m referring to the chatter that the new iPhone model would include fingerprint recognition technology that Apple acquired when it bought AuthenTec last year. If that turns out to be true, Apple would be able to leverage it’s growing Passbook ecosystem along with its more than 500 million iTunes account that have a credit card on file to jumpstart the mobile payments in an easy to use and secure way. Clues that Apple is indeed exploring mobile payments can be found in its patent and patent filings. One example U.S. Patent No. 8,255,323 for “Motion based payment confirmation.”

Odds are if Apple does introduce an iPhone model that includes fingerprint recognition technology either as a general security function, for mobile payment safety or both, others will follow suit.

Apple is not the only company that recognizes the use of fingerprint and biometric interfaces in device security and mobile payments. Several weeks ago, 3G, 4G and LTE licensing and technology company InterDigital (IDCC) entered into a R&D collaboration agreement with BIO-key International (BKYI), a leader in fingerprint biometric identification solutions and advanced mobile credentialing and identity verification technologies. Another company to watch is Inside Secure (ISDCF) which offers fingerprint biometric solutions as well as other security solutions for Android.

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