Much has been said about the latest version of the Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) iPhone 6, but it turns out one function on the new phone may prove to be the biggest news yet.
The incredible change
When the iPhone launched in the summer of 2007, few could've predicted the incredible impact it would have well beyond the mobile phone industry. Through the iPhone, and later other smartphones following its lead, things like MP3 players, GPS units, and countless other products -- including BlackBerry phones -- essentially vanished just a few years later.
And the next thing in Apple's sights is nothing other than your wallet.
The massive additions
Media outlets were abuzz on Labor Day weekend about the partnerships announced between Apple and credit card companies Visa (NYSE:V), MasterCard (NYSE:MA), and American Express (NYSE:AXP) ahead of the Apple event next Tuesday that's widely suspected to be the launch of the iPhone 6.
Re/code reported on Sunday that Apple and American Express have reached an agreement to "work together" on the "new iPhone payments system." And just one day later, Bloomberg revealed that Visa and MasterCard had also reached an agreement to become a part of Apple's payments system.
The Bloomberg article began by saying, simply:
Apple plans to turn its next iPhone into a mobile wallet through a partnership with major payment networks, banks, and retailers, according to a person familiar with the situation.
But this isn't exactly new news. The Wall Street Journal noted in January that Apple "is laying the groundwork for an expanded mobile-payments service, leveraging its growing base of iPhone and iPad users and the hundreds of millions of credit cards on file through its iTunes stores."
Tim Cook himself said on Apple's earnings call just a few days later:
The mobile payments area in general is one that we've been intrigued with, and that was one of the thoughts behind Touch ID. ... I don't have anything specific to announce today, but you can tell by looking at the demographics of our customers and the amount of commerce that goes through iOS devices versus the competition that it's a big opportunity on the platform.
And with the announcements of the partnerships between Apple and the major credit card companies, all signs suggest that this isn't just something Apple is "intrigued with," but something it's distinctly involved in. And that could mean big things for Apple, the credit card companies, and the payments industry as we know it.
The incredible opportunity
Even though Google launched its mobile payments solution in 2011, last year Starbucks processed the most mobile payments on its app used in stores. And Nokia first provided a phone with near-field communication technology -- which enables mobile payments -- all the way back in 2006.
Those points are notable because it's important to see that mobile payments aren't exactly new. However, one can't help wondering whether Apple's jump into the mobile payments market will set off a revolution akin to what we saw with its first iPhone. It was by no means the first smartphone that was launched -- that happened in 1994 -- yet the device has clearly been one of the most successful, as earlier this year Apple quietly sold its 500 millionth iPhone.
In the realm of mobile payments, many have heard of the concept, yet it lacks widespread adoption. Remember that consultancy Bain reported earlier this year:
In-store mobile payments are relatively small today, with only 3% to 7% of consumers using their phones to buy coffee, books, or other physical goods in stores. But that number is growing fast: Nearly twice as many consumers started using mobile payments in 2013 as they did in 2012.
When you consider that the rate of mobile payment use is nearly doubling as consumers are becoming more comfortable with the idea, one has to think that Apple could be jumping into the market at just the right time, exactly as it did with the iPhone.
Add in Apple's reported partnership with the three major credit card companies, and many consumers will probably find their concerns associated with mobile payments diminishing.
What's more, Cook noted in February that Apple has "almost 800 million iTunes accounts, and the majority of those have credit cards behind them," so people are clearly already comfortable with Apple and its storage of their personal and payments information.
The Foolish takeaway
We can't say definitively what this capability of mobile payments will mean for Apple and its bottom line for investors. But one has to wonder whether Apple's mobile payments will be the thing we reflect on seven years from now and wonder how we ever bought anything without it.
Patrick Morris owns shares of Apple, Google (C shares), and Starbucks. The Motley Fool recommends American Express, Apple, Google (A and C shares), MasterCard, Starbucks, and Visa and owns shares of Apple, Google (A and C shares), MasterCard, Starbucks, and Visa. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools don't 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.