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Contactless technology is becoming increasingly ubiquitous – from the tube to John Lewis to the cornershop. Contactless is now a part of the average consumer’s arsenal – £2.32bn was spent through contactless cards last year, and a third of card transactions in London were contactless.
But who really wants to carry the burden of a debit card when you can keep your plastic on your phone? Although mobile payments are a relatively new technology, the space is already becoming crowded. Behemoths like Apple, Samsung, Facebook and Google are bringing services to market, and even Snapchat is getting in on the act. Once a techy fantasy, paying for stuff using your phone is going mainstream.
Not to be outdone, Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba announced an interesting twist on the mobile payments formula, dubbed ‘smile to pay’ at this month’s Mobile World Congress. Unlike the fingerprint technology employed by Apple and Samsung, ‘smile to pay’ users can simply take a selfie to verify their identity. Alibaba, which raised a record $25bn at its US IPO in September 2014, is an e-commerce portal that connects Chinese wholesalers with overseas buyers. The company is hoping to roll out the technology throughout China before launching in other countries.
Although mobile payments are becoming increasingly common in the US, the technology is yet to properly establish itself in the UK. That said, Apple, Samsung and Google all have their sights set on a summer release for their services, which is sure to catapult mobile payments.
There are a few lingering doubts about mobile payments, however – foremost amongst them is security. Currently there’s a whole host of ways to duplicate, swipe and steal through mobile payments, making it easier to pay for things also makes it easier for criminals. ‘Smile to Pay’ could go a long way to alleviating these concerns. Linking an account to a face ensures the service can accurately figure out who should and shouldn’t be accessing accounts, and most importantly adds a layer of trust.
Without niggling concerns like security, and riding on a crest of interest that will no doubt be generated by Apple Pay’s launch in the UK this summer, mobile payments are set to boom – goodbye plastic!