The Surprising Business Apple Could Ultimately Dominate

This one development could tilt the playing field in its favor.

Feb 3, 2014 at 8:00PM

Recently, armored car specialist The Brink's Company (NYSE:BCO) announced it was launching Brink's Checkout, a payments processing service that leverages its well-respected reputation in security into online transactions.

With the revelations of security breaches at Target, Neiman Marcus, and most recently arts and crafts store Michael's, a cumulative situation where tens of millions of customers had their private data breached, the opportunity for capitalizing on the need for better, more secure systems is ripe for the picking.

Apparently, Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) feels the same way, because The Wall Street Journal reports that it, too, wants to access the burgeoning payments processing market. Where Brink's will be trading on its name to launch its service -- but use the technologies and systems developed by existing service provider 2Checkout -- Apple believes it can tap into the vast wealth of experience it's already garnered through handling payments via its iTunes store.

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Apple handles billions of transactions annually through iTunes. According to Billboard, the online store recorded 1.34 billion units of digital track sales made over the service in 2013, and though that's down 5.7% from the year before (yet another soft number for Apple to go along with disappointing iPhone sales), it marks a rather significant track record for the tech giant. And that's just music; you could also add a few hundred million more units in album sales, movies, and books. So, while Brink's has a name to run on, Apple has the track record to back it up.

The market analysts at Forrester Research expect payment processing volumes to triple over the next three years, growing from $30 billion today to $90 billion by 2017. And though PayPal is far and away the industry leader, the eBay (NASDAQ:EBAY) subsidiary is overseeing a fairly fractured and competitive marketplace that has new players entering the space almost daily.

Apple, then, could theoretically catapult itself ahead of the others, maybe even PayPal, too, because where the unit is eBay's fastest-growing business with 143 million active users as of the end of last year -- a 16% increase from 2012 -- Apple has 575 million registered iTunes users.

Activist shareholder Carl Icahn certainly thinks it's a business worth pursuing, urging Apple last week to go with gusto after this "very real opportunity." And why not? It moves a lot of product already, meaning iPhones, iPads, and iPods could allow it to leverage those mobile devices with the 400 million or so credit card numbers it keeps on file. According to eBay, around 40% of new PayPal users last year came from mobile devices. Looking at how both Google (NASDAQ:GOOGL) and Amazon.com have parlayed their success with content by moving into payments, it seems not so far of a leap for Apple to join them.

The Google Wallet application, for example, allows users to purchase digital goods through Google-hosted marketplaces, plus send money to family and friends. Since it's available on both Apple and Android phones, Apple would have a chance to drive a wedge between its rival's customers on its own device. As for Amazon, one of the selling points of its Login and Pay with Amazon service was how with 215 million accounts in its database, it had a natural edge over PayPal. Yet Apple wouldn't be seen as a competitor for a retailer's customers as Amazon would, so acceptance of an Apple service would likely be better received.

It could also piggyback on its recent iBeacon acquisition that allows users to find products, display product info, and provide indoor mapping services on iPhones at retail stores. And using its iPhone fingerprint reading technology, which it could use to have a customer complete a transaction, it's obvious an Apple payment processing service could go very far in providing a secure milieu in which transactions could be completed.

There's certainly a difference between digital downloads through iTunes and payments processing, particularly since it allows a third party into its transactions, which might not sit well with the insular Apple. Yet having been punished for a disappointing earnings report, a payments processing service could still prove to be a profitable niche useful for partially offsetting slowing business lines, even if it doesn't let it back up the Brink's truck to riches.

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Fool contributor Rich Duprey has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends and owns shares of Amazon.com, Apple, eBay, and Google. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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