According to industry sources, 2013 is the year for mobile payments to go mainstream. Of course, so were 2012, and 2011 before it. Mobile payments are the 3D TVs of the finance world -- always on the cusp of popularity, never quite getting there.
But payments made using information stored in smartphones and transmitted through the Internet are inevitable, according to a panel of payment executives at CES 2013 today. Only recently have large numbers of consumers begun buying smartphones with mobile wallet software preinstalled and ready to use, said Peter Hazlehurst, who heads up Google Wallet.
"This is an evolving process," Hazlehurst said. "It's not as if tomorrow everyone suddenly has it." People have to learn new behaviors, he said, like using coupons stored on their phones or tapping an NFC-enabled phone to pay.
The future will bring with it much more seamless ways of completing transactions, Hazlehurst said. Referencing Google Glass, the company's forthcoming eyeglasses-like computer, Hazlehurst said "you can imagine some really fun new applications -- 'blink to pay.'" ("Not necessarily safe here in Vegas," he added.)
Hazlehurst appeared to be (mostly) joking, but as he pointed out, payments are already becoming more seamless all the time. He referred to the app Tabbed Out, which lets users sign into a bar or restaurant when they arrive and have the restaurant charge them when they leave -- no waiting for the check.
In the far future, he said, fleets of Google self-drivingcould serve as automated taxis, with customers summoning cabs, leaving when they arrive and having the payment all take place in the background.
So why is it taking so long?
In short, it's a massive change, and average people haven't seen much benefit from the new technologies to date, said Ed McLaughlin, chief emerging payments officer at MasterCard. But that doesn't mean mobile payments are a passing fad.
"It's not when will it happen -- it's happening," McLaughlin said. "This is what a technology transition feels like. Consumers are going to find things that make their lives easier ... and they're going to adopt that."
Companies like Google, MasterCard and others are trying to lure consumers with targeted coupons and loyalty programs, and appeals to the added convenience and security of storing financial information in the smartphone.
"As you move from the physical world to a digital stream, all sorts of new abilities can be offered," McLaughlin said.