Another article in the New York Times provides a good discussion of mobile payments. The article offers insights into how mobile payments are taking different paths to greater acceptance in developed and emerging economies. In emerging economies, mobile payments offer financial inclusion for people ignored by traditional banking and payment services. In developed economies, it’s the purchase of virtual goods associated with social gaming that’s expected to drive greater acceptance of the cell phone as a device used to make online purchases.

In developed economies, mobile operators are a key obstacle to the success of mobile payments:

“If you want to buy a virtual penguin for two bucks, you’re not going to go to your wallet, take your credit card out and type in 16 numbers,” Mr. Marcus said. “These transactions are impulse purchases.”

Why focus on virtual penguins instead of real-world goods like books or clothes? Because the hefty transaction fees charged by wireless carriers in the United States would make those offerings uncompetitive or unprofitable, while virtual goods cost almost nothing to produce.

More comparison of adoption of mobile payments between developed and emerging economies:

… mobile money-transfer services have had more success in developing countries, where fewer people have traditional bank accounts, and among people in developed countries who want to send money to relatives abroad. 

In the United States, skeptics say, people will continue to use checks, credit cards and cash rather than adopting yet another system for their mobile devices.

The potential of the market for mobile payments can no longer be ignored:

… the potential opportunity to get fees from the growing number of mobile transactions is too juicy to pass up, despite the risks, said Aaron McPherson, an analyst with IDC Financial Insights, a market research company.


A user in Japan using her mobile phone to purchase a soft drink from a vending machine

A user in Japan using her mobile phone to purchase a soft drink from a vending machine