Apple sees a big opportunity in mobile payments, CEO Tim Cook said in a conference call to discuss the company's fiscal first-quarter earnings.
"We're seeing that people love being able to buy content, whether it's music or movies or books from their iPhone," Cook said in response to a question. "We're not just limiting ourselves to that you can tell by looking at demographics and the amount of commerce that goes through iOS devices, it's a big opportunity on that platform."
Apple's plans for payments have historically been the subject of much speculation, and recent developments have added fuel to the discussion. Apple has reportedly tasked Jennifer Bailey, a vice president of the company's online stores, with building a payments business, according to The Wall Street Journal.
While Apple's earnings per share for the quarter ending Dec. 31, 2013 of $14.50 beat Zacks consensus analysts' estimate of $14.04 per share, the company's quarterly revenue of $57.6 billion missed Zacks consensus of $57.7 billion in revenue for the quarter.
Investor Carl Icahn, who owns a stake in Apple, has pressured Apple to invest in mobile payments, the Journal reported. Icahn has also asked eBay to spin off PayPal as a separate unit. EBay CEO John Donahue pushed back against that suggestion during eBay's recent earnings call.
"It sounds like a bold move for Icahn to make such a statement, but the reasoning is very sound and logical. He wants these companies to monetize their enrolled user bases," said Richard Crone, a payments consultant, in an interview.
Apple's share of the retail payments technology industry would be huge, Crone says, noting Apple has 575 million registered iTunes users "that all have debit or credit cards" associated with the accounts. "In the case of Apple they are the enrollment leader in payment credentials," Crone says.
Apple has experimented with and deployed technology such as mobile gift cards and its Bluetooth-based iBeacon, but has never built an iPhone with a Near Field Communication chip an essential component in rival mobile wallets such as Isis and Google Wallet.
While many of the elements are in place for Apple to make a mobile payments play, it may not make an imminent move, said Richard Oglesby, a senior analyst at Aite Group, during an earlier interview.