6 Virtual-Wallet Apps Worth Trying
If one mobile trend is blowing up right now, it’s mobile payments. Apps that transform your mobile device into a virtual wallet are being created left and right by startups (Jumio), retailers (Starbucks), credit card companies (American Express’ Serve and Master Card’s PayPass) and established tech companies such as Square and PayPal. Even Apple didn’t miss a chance to start dipping their toes into the mobile-payment fun with its Passbook app in the iOS 6 update.
By 2016, research firm Gartner is predicting that the mobile-payment market worth will grow to $617 billion and its users to 448 million. Gartner estimated there to be 160.5 million users in 2011.
What’s the craze all about? For one, virtual-wallet apps lighten the load of your actual wallet and hold everything (your credit cards and often loyalty cards and coupons) safely and protected in your smartphone. There’s also the convenience factor of quickly paying by simply waving your phone near a terminal or holding it for a cashier to scan. Then there’s the reward points earned with apps (i.e. the Starbucks’ Rewards program) and the chance to shop at a place that’s dangling coupons and deals right in your face (Google Wallet’s built-in Google Offers).
While the mobile-payment trend is only just beginning (you’ll notice in most of the apps below that the lists of participating merchants are rather short), we’ve gathered a handful of virtual-wallet apps to start checking out. Be on the lookout for our roundup of mobile-payment apps on the receiving end (for businesses that accept payments on the go) in the near future.
Google Wallet is a thorough virtual-wallet app for select NFC-enabled smartphones. The only problem? Those phones are, for the most part, only offered through Sprint right now.
Nevertheless, as NFC becomes more popular on other networks, this is one app that can sway your vote about which smartphone you get in the future. You can store a variety of credit cards within the app and select a specific card when paying at a store. To pay, you simply tap the back of your phone to a special point-of-sale terminal. (Currently, 25 national retailers support Google Wallet.)
Since it’s a Google app, you know you’re bound to find extra goodies included. Within Google Wallet, you’ll also find Google Offers, which notifies and provides you with coupons and deals. And it seems like Google Wallet takes all the standard security measures to offer you peace of mind: If you lose your phone, your account information will be secure with a password, and you can disable the service via wallet.google.com/manage. (Free for Android)
Isis is another virtual-wallet app that we wish more people had access to. Currently, it’s running pilot programs in Salt Lake City and Austin (a full list of merchants is on the Isis website), and it’s only available on select Isis Ready phones (that contain special SIM cards) from Verizon Wireless, AT&T, and T-Mobile. For those lucky folks, Isis boasts impressive mobile-payment features with top-notch security measures.
Isis holds multiple credit cards, loyalty cards and offers in one place—lightening the load of your wallet and keychain. To pay or redeem offers, Isis users hold their phones up to checkout terminals at Isis Ready merchants.
All Isis information is secured via a four-digit pin number, and if you lose your phone, you can remotely suspend your Isis account by calling your wireless carrier. Lastly, sensitive information is stored in a special chip that’s built into Isis Ready phones and that is only accessible by authorized programs such as Isis. (Free for Android)
PayPal is leading the mobile-payment sector, according to Mashable, with an estimated revenue of $10 billion by the end of the year. It does not, however, have as much of a robust virtual-wallet feature as other apps.
PayPal’s app is unique because it lets you send and request money. Say you chipped in on a group gift and your friend still owes you. Just select your friend from your contacts, type in the amount of money he owes and write a message. Hopefully, though, that friend will simply take the initiative to utilize the Send feature in their mobile PayPal account, which lets users send money easily after credit card information has been entered into their accounts.
To enter credit card information, we love how PayPal can simply take a photo of your card to automatically read that lengthy credit card number. You can also take photos of checks to add to your accounts.
PayPal will also detect which merchants around you use the PayPal Here mobile card reader. Again, this list will most often be extremely limited until more businesses go mobile. (Free for Android and iPhone)
This free mobile-payment app focuses on restaurant and bar transactions only. The idea is that, instead of waiting for your tab at a bar, you can quickly open, view and pay for your tab (and add a tip) via the app.
Like most mobile-payment apps, Tabbedout will display compatible restaurants and bars near you or in a city of your choice. You can check out a location’s address and the types of credit cards it accepts. Currently, the number of places that take Tabbedout transactions is limited, but as mobile-payment technology grows, we’re sure Tabbedout locations will too. (Free for Android and iPhone)
You’ve possibly started to see small businesses, food trucks or your startup entrepreneur friends using the Square app. Square Register features a small, square-shaped, white credit card reader that plugs into mobile devices, and it connects to the Square Register app. This lets people accept credit card payments virtually anywhere they have their mobile phone or tablet.
But if you don’t need to accept payments, you can download the free Square Wallet app, which lets you pay with the virtual wallet at select businesses around town. Square Wallet will let you know which places those are. (Free for Android and iPhone)
The Starbucks app gives its dedicated caffeine addicts the ability to track a Starbucks Card balance, reload the card, check their Stars in the Starbucks Rewards program, find stores and more. Most notably, the Starbucks app lets you make transactions at nearly 7,000 Starbucks shops in the country.
Since the launch of Starbucks’ iPhone and Android apps in January, the coffee chain has processed more than one million mobile transactions per week in the U.S., according AllThingsD. Starbucks users are highly enjoying quick payments for their java, including the ability to pay with the app during a drive-through order.
Even more excitement: Square is teaming up with Starbucks to create more mobile-payment options in the near future. AllThingsD wrote up a nice little summary on how exactly Square will process your Starbucks transactions. (Free for Android and iPhone)