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Sprint Prepares NFC Mobile Wallet and Apple Demos Passbook, Potential Precursor to a Mobile Wallet

It was recently revealed that Sprint is preparing a mobile platform and wallet called Touch Wallet and Apple demoed a new addition to their upcoming iOS 6 called Passbook, which stores gift cards, tickets, coupons and store loyalty cards that can be used and redeemed with merchants via scannable barcodes.

Google Wallet, Visa’s, MasterCard’s PayPass Wallet, American Express’ Serve, PayPal and the mobile carrier consortium Isis’ will now be joined by Sprint, and possibly Apple, as each competitor offers point-of-sale payment alternatives to plastic. Information about Sprint’s Touch Wallet was leaked on the web showing screenshots of the app storing loyalty cards and when used for making in-store payments. While Verizon, AT&T and T-Mobile formed the mobile payment venture Isis, Sprint was an initial partner of Google Wallet. Now planning the release of a mobile of their own, Sprint’s Touch Wallet will store payment cards and retailer loyalty cards, although no official bank or payment card partners have been announced.

At Apple’s World Wide Developer Conference in June they introduced Passbook, an app that organizes gift cards, coupons, store loyalty cards and tickets in the mobile device that can be scanned, used and redeemed via barcodes, at least for now. Also, recent evidence has surfaced supporting the ongoing rumor that the next iPhone will have NFC capabilities. What’s known about Passbook now is that it supports digital versions of retailer closed loop gift cards, loyalty cards, tickets, boarding passes and the like. These are stored in the mobile device as scannable barcodes resembling QR codes that require a camera-based scanner to read.

With the ability to store gift cards and loyalty cards, along with location-based features, the Passbook has many features of a mobile wallet. However, Passbook only works with closed loop systems for payment and there was no mention of plans for adding any open loop payment networks. At this point any talk about the iPhone supporting Near Field Communication is still just rumor, and the requirement for camera-based barcode scanners would be a barrier to adoption. But with a loyal user base and hundreds of millions of iTunes accounts, a native app that can access coupon, loyalty and store gift card information, and possibility of the next iPhone containing hardware to support NFC, Apple may be positioning themselves to compete in the mobile payments space.

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