Apple Pay and CurrentC shine light on mobile payments

The launch of Apple Pay this week has thrust mobile payments into the spotlight, illuminating not just the new payment platform and its promise, but that of a competitive platform being developed by a group of merchants.

CurrentC is the product of the Merchant Customer Exchange (MCX), comprised of a group of retailers that includes some very heavy hitters like Walmart (NYSE:WMT), Macy's (NYSE:M), McDonald's (NYSE:MCD), Target (NYSE:TGT), Walgreens (NYSE:WAG) and Whole Foods (NASDAQ:WFM).

Apple Pay is available on all newer iPhones and will be available on the Apple Watch later this year. It works with NFC POS terminals and allows shoppers to pay with Apple Pay at NFC-enabled cash registers. Apple Pay promises to simplify transactions, but has limitations. For now, it works only with the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus. Users of those phones simply tap to pay with the NFC chip inside the new devices. Owners of older-model iPhones are out of luck.

And while Apple Pay lets users pay with a credit card stored on their smartphone, CurrentC works only with an individual user's bank account, like a debit card. The result allows retailers to avoid paying credit-card-issuers' swipe fees.

CurrentC works with all phones, not just the newest model iPhones, making it available to a much bigger audience. The app works with QR codes recognized by most existing checkout scanners and lets shoppers use coupons and other digital offers.

It took just two days for Apple Pay to run headfirst into its CurrentC opposition, when CVS and Rite Aid -- both members of MCX -- disabled Apple Pay acceptance from their NFC terminals. That news kicked off a flurry of stories that outlined the inside manueverings of MCX, including a non-compete clause that dissallows members from using a rival mobile payment system for three years.

Walmart, Target and CVS are backing CurrentC. Target is also on board with Apple Pay, proving the retailer isn't taking any side other than its own in an attempt to win back shoppers' trust following its data breach last year.

There's good news in this, however. Regardless of the platform, retailer backing means mobile payments may finally take off.

For more:
- See this Yahoo Finance story
- See this TechCrunch story
- See this Forbes blog post

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