Apple Pay has launched to considerable buzz, but the technology giant has done little to communicate where its new mobile wallet can be used, leaving its partners to fill the void.
Apple's website has an alphabetized list of participating merchants' logos, but this list is not nearly as informative as tools from rival wallets like Softcard, which provides the addresses of specific stores online based on the user's location.
MasterCard is taking over where Apple stopped by promoting MasterCard Nearby, an app that locates MasterCard ATMs and merchants, to help shoppers find nearby stores that accept contactless mobile payments. Though the app is designed for consumers, it also sends a message to MasterCard's issuers.
"Part of this is to appease issuers that Apple Pay can indeed be used somewhere," said Richard Crone, a payments consultant. "It's a business-to-business play that is released on the consumer app store."
Apps such as MasterCard Nearby can provide tangible evidence that consumers want to use Apple Pay, and it also provides a platform to drive traffic based on geolocation, he said.
Apple did not return a request for comment. Ed McLaughlin, MasterCard's chief emerging payments officer, said in a statement provided through a spokesperson that MasterCard's app evolved out of the card network's ATM locator technology.
"Weve taken our ATM Locator capabilities and built them right into the MasterCard Nearby app so consumers can download one app and have the ability to identify contactless merchants, ATMs and cash back with purchase locations all through one resource," McLaughlin said in the statement. He described the ATM locator as "a highly popular consumer resource and we expect that MasterCard Nearby will also prove to be a valuable resource for our cardholders."
The app also lets consumers find locations to reload prepaid cards and get cash back with purchases.
ATM location technology initially grew out of the demand to find surcharge free ATM networks, and that technology has not substantially evolved, Crone said. Nevertheless, such apps can reveal consumer intent based on how and when they search for merchants and ATMs.
"It's a stealth Trojan horse to provide analysis and prove that Apple is driving foot traffic or new sales," Crone said. "The information leading up to the store entry is as valuable as the actual purchase."
The growth of store locator apps such as MasterCard Nearby also suggests Apple Pay's release alone isn't enough to make mobile payments or NFC technology mainstream among consumers or merchants.
"The fact that MasterCard has to launch an Apple Pay finder app underscores the real problem at hand: NFC-enabled merchants are far from ubiquitous," said Jordan McKee, a senior analyst at 451 Research. "It's far-fetched to think that the average Apple Pay user will want to cross-reference a third party application before going shopping. Payments shouldn't have to be hard or a guessing game."
Until today's highly constrained acceptance network becomes broadened, mass market adoption will be unattainable, McKee said. "Unfortunately, this will be our reality for quite some time," he said. "It's simply unrealistic to leave your home or office with only your mobile device and expect to make all the purchases you typically would with cash or plastic."
While the MasterCard Nearby app is a "nice" thing for Apple enthusiasts who want to use Apple Pay, the card networks are better off devoting their resources to promoting EMV and NFC enablement at merchants, said Phil Philliou, president and CEO of Trubeacon.
"The industry should think more broadly about contactless transactions than just Apple Pay," Philliou said.