Is Apple Preparing to Scoop Up Mobile Payments?

Everywhere I turn, the big Apple story these days seems to be the iWatch. Analysts, pundits, Apple naysayers and wellwishers alike all seem to be totally smitten with the idea of a new, wearable piece of Apple technology—a device that will either redeem the very concept of wearable tech or else send Apple into a fiery tailspin, just depending on who you ask.

But while we’re all abuzz about iWatch, it’s entirely possible that we’re missing the truly big story, unfolding right under our noses: Apple is about to scoop up mobile payments. It’s about to totally dominate the field. The company already has a good grip on our music-buying, our communications, our relationships, and—with the iWatch—I suspect our health, as well. Now, Apple’s also making a play for our wallets—and no, that’s not nearly as creepy as it sounds.

Apple and VISA

Let me back up for a moment to say that I’m not privy to any insider information on this one, and I don’t have any big Apple announcement to break—nothing you don’t already know. What I do know is that Apple is reportedly preparing to partner with VISA for something big; and, that the current VISA CEO, Charles Scharf, is well-versed in mobile technology, well-respected in tech circles (including Apple circles), and seemingly zealous to take VISA down an increasingly mobile-oriented path.

Here’s what else I can tell you: It makes sense. Apple already has the ecosystem for this. It already has the devices. It is way ahead of any of its competitors on things like fingerprint-scanning technology, which may be one of the keys to making mobile payments work.

Compared with Google

Apple is not the first giant of technology to make a play for dominance in the mobile payment field. Google has made some attempts, many of them stumbles—and there are a few reasons for that. One of those is just practical: Google doesn’t quite have the ecosystem. Google is many things—and it’s certainly a great company—but it’s not primarily a hardware company, and it doesn’t have anything close to device ubiquity. Apple, on the other hand, is in the business of actually making things. It’s a hardware company, and its devices are everywhere—making it much easier to imagine Apple, not Google, taking over our payment capabilities at local retail outlets and restaurants.

A bigger and more complicated issue is that Google has an open-ended system—and do you really want to trust your financial data to an open-ended system? Google is constantly telling us that it respects our privacy and our confidential information, and the reason it keeps telling us is that we frankly don’t believe it. Google already knows way too much about us, many of us believe, and where Apple makes money by making things, Google makes money by selling our information to advertisers. Is that the company you want to trust your credit card number to—or would you rather take your chances with the closed, secure ecosystem offered by Apple?

It could be huge—and it could be pretty nice, too. Imagine: Not having to go to the trouble of whipping out your credit card at the coffee shop because your device is enabled with mobile payment technology, and all you have to do is scan your thumbprint, or something similar. That’s what Apple seems to be angling for, anyway—and all the pieces seem to be there for it to really happen.