It sounds boring, but one of the most important frontiers in technology right now is how mobile can make paying for stuff easier. And while this year's Mobile World Congress might have been a little lacking in four-star hardware, there were some serious steps taken towards replacing your wallet with your smartphone.
Here are the latest updates to the state of the mobile payment union, player by player:
MasterCard's MasterPass lets retailers make their own apps to let you pay for stuff in different ways -- sort of like Apple's checkouts. You can use NFC, QR codes (please don't!), mobile credit card readers or MasterCard's own MasterPass wallet.
For web and mobile use, it simplifies the way you can buy things. It rounds up your payment and authentication data in its cloud service, and lets you plug that into places online. Think of it this way: anywhere you're used to seeing a PayPal option, you might see MasterPass too. Instead of typing out your name, address and card number, you'd just enter your MasterPass password.
The best part is that Australia is getting exclusive first access to Masterpass.
Visa announced a new partnership with ROAM, which is a point-of-sale company. Basically, ROAM makes checkout terminals that you'll find in stores and has payment tech that helps turn phones into checkout counters too. That's right: dongles. This will help get Visa Ready -- the company's mobile payment initiative -- into actual stores.
Visa also partnered with Samsung to pre-install its Visa payWare app on all next-gen phones. That's supposedly going to start with the Galaxy S IV, and will more than likely end up as simple bloatware for a lot of people since there aren't many places to actually, you know, use it yet.
PayPal Here -- the company's response to Square -- has been available in the US since last March, but it's now also available in Europe. Why the delay? European countries use a different technology in their credit cards that you'll find stateside, meaning they don't swipe the same.
The Here dongle works in conjunction with an iPhone or Android app, and it accepts payment from credit cards, cheques, cash or your PayPal wallet. Receipts are spit out from a printer, over email or as an SMS with a link.
Samsung's new Samsung Wallet app is basically Passbook for Samsung phones. The app stores tickets, deals, boarding passes and membership/loyalty cards. Also like Passbook, it can push location-aware notifications to your phone, so you know when you're near a deal you've opted into. Samsung Wallet won't have any NFC capabilities though, payment or otherwise. Any NFC payment would fall to partners, like Visa, which Samsung just partnered up (see above).
Samsung already has a number of partners lined up for Samsung Wallet, but we'd expect a few more to pop up on March 14 for the launch of the Samsung Galaxy S IV.
Isis, the NFC payment system backed by the collective might of several US carriers -- AT&T, Verizon and T-Mobile -- didn't make a peep at MWC. Neither did Google Wallet, an NFC dream deferred going on nearly two years. The biggest NFC payment pushes so far have been conspicuous only in their absence, which means that it's unlikely this will be the year NFC finally gains a foothold. And if not now, will it ever?