Apple is expected to launch a mobile wallet as part of its next iPhone, and the company has already trained its userbase to be active mobile purchasers.
Even though iPhone adoption is on par with Android devices in the U.S., "when it comes to payments and purchasing, Android is not the leader," said Mary Monahan, head of mobile for Javelin. "Apple is."
There are roughly 800 million iTunes accounts, most with credit card credentials attached, Apple disclosed in April. According to Javelin, Apple customers on average make two mobile purchases a month, while Android owners make one; also, Apple consumers spend $25 on a mobile purchase on average, compared to $20 for Android users.
Last year's iPhone 5s was a consumer hit that helped Apple close the gap with Android adoption. In 2013, Apple devices accounted for 45% of U.S. smartphones, compared to Android's 47% share, Monahan said.
Still, Apple has a habit of introducing features that aren't supported on earlier devices, so a new iWallet would not necessarily work on the popular iPhone 5s especially if Apple's wallet relies on Near Field Communication, a technology that has never appeared in an iOS device.
But Apple customers are always fast to upgrade, said Richard Oglesby, senior analyst at Double Diamond Payments Research.
"Apple sales tend to reach millions of units per day right after launch, so even if there is no iPhone 5 solution, the iPhone 6 could reach a reasonable level of critical mass pretty quickly," Oglesby said.
Previous mobile wallets, such as Google Wallet and Softcard (the new name of the Isis mobile wallet) launched with limited support for devices and carrier networks. For example, Google Wallet launched only on Sprint, and faced resistance from Verizon and the other networks over whether Google Wallet could access to the secure element for contactless NFC payments. And the Isis wallet, backed by AT&T, Verizon and T-Mobile, is not available on Sprint.
Apple has an advantage in that it works directly with the major carriers and has control over its own operating system, Monahan said.
On the merchant side, Apple can bypass hardware hurdles by turning its own phones into NFC acceptance devices, she said. The company already does this in its own stores through the use of a VeriFone device that adds NFC acceptance capabilities to the current line of iPhones.
Apple is likely to learn from its rivals' experiences by deploying multiple technologies at once, Oglesby said.
"Based on the Apple patent portfolio, we can expect a tokenized, cloud-based wallet that uses NFC as only one of multiple connectivity methods," he said.
In order to scale more quickly, Apple may enable older iPhone models for bar code payments or a similar method, Oglesby said. Starbucks, for example, has a bar code-based app that's used for 15% of its U.S. in-store sales.
The company can't take a chance that new features on its phone can't be used at all terminals right away, Oglesby said. "Apple is smarter than that, so I don't expect it [to rely solely on NFC]," he added. "Payments may be a minor part of the launch, building over time as terminalization progresses, or Apple will make a big move with a terminal-independent approach."
Ultimately, Apple's success will rest on whether consumers are willing to reach into their pockets to buy its new iPhone and then keep reaching into those pockets to pull out the phone at the point of sale.