Does NFC have a curse on it when it comes to mobile payments? Every time it seems like a payment system is just about ready to really become popular, it feels like some business interests have to step in, flex their muscle, and do everything in their power to ruin things. Android users faced that headache as carriers clashed with Google Wallet over access to the secure element on our phones, forcing Google to come up with a work-around. And now that Apple Pay is live in the US and more users than ever before have the ability to make NFC payments, another group of companies is doing everything in its power to ruin contactless payments for everyone, turning off already-installed NFC readers at point-of-sale terminals out of what amounts to little more than spite.
If you’ve been making NFC payments with your phone for a while now, you may have used the NFC-equipped terminals at stores like CVS and RiteAid. The infrastructure’s been there for a while, supporting tap-and-pay cards as easily as Google Wallet. But now that Apple Pay is making the idea of NFC payments so much more visible, members of the Merchant Customer eXchange (companies like CVS and RiteAid) are crippling their payment terminals, preventing customers from paying with their phones. And it’s all because MCX has its own payment app – or at least it will; the system isn’t even widely public yet.
The most frustrating part may be that the MCX-backed payment app doesn’t even use NFC in the first place: it’s an awkward optical system based on something similar to QR codes. So rather than give shoppers the choice to pay how they’d like, these MCX companies are saying it’s their way or the highway. For some users, it sounds like the highway is very much the way to go, and groups of tech-loving phone owners are already calling for boycotts of MCX members involved in this action.
What are your feelings on the phone-based payment wars? Is this all a lot of noise over nothing? It may seem like a fad now, but some day in the future, your phone really might replace your wallet. Whatever new payment system that leads you to using, a whole lot of players are interested in getting a part of it – and early fights like this one might well help determine who’s left standing by then.