PayPal rebrands, touting mobile payment abilities

Matt Hamblen

On its Web site, PayPal says it processed $20 billion in mobile payments in 2013, though some analysts have put the mobile payments processed for last year at up to $27 billion.

PayPal accounted for about $1.85 billion in eBay revenue for the first quarter, or 43% of the total.

Ovum analyst Eden Zoller said PayPal has been quick to embrace promising new technologies -- wearable devices, biometrics and even Bluetooth Low Energy with beacons -- for m-payment initiatives.

By comparison, Apple has already taken steps with it iBeacon technology to potentially tie purchases from smartphones to beacons in stores over Bluetooth Low Energy. Zoller predicted Apple "will make an explicit move into m-payments this year" but didn't elaborate.

On the other hand, Litan said that "Apple hasn't made any noticeable forays into the mobile payment market, and I doubt they will anymore. They seem to be sticking to devices and consumer services and have no clear incentive to get into payments at this stage."

Litan may be in the minority with regards to Apple's intentions. She was just one of four analysts interviewed who doubted that Apple would expand its mobile payments efforts.

Two mobile payment services -- Isis and Google Wallet -- that rely on NFC technology in smartphones are likely to "stay dormant" in 2014, Litan said. "I don't see any visible signs that the market is dying to have these types of solutions."

There are many other challengers that PayPal will confront, despite the virtues of its updated brand and recent growth. "The challenge for PayPal's mobile first ambition is that a multitude of other players have exactly the same goal for m-commerce, including Facebook," Zoller said.

Jack Gold, an analyst at J. Gold Associates, called the mobile payments market "highly fragmented," a condition that will remain so for the foreseeable future in the U.S. "There is plenty of room for competition. When — not if — Apple gets serious about mobile payments, they will be a force to be reckoned with."

As in the past few years, Gold said consumers in the U.S. still don't see mobile payments as a necessity, or even highly desirable. Credit and debit cards, and even cash, are still much easier for most Americans to use.

PayPal's success beyond 2014 could be highly dependent on Apple's moves. "We will see something on mobile payments from Apple in the not too distant future," McKee predicted.

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