Year after year, Apple fans have expected the company to make a splash with an iPhone-based mobile-payment system. And year after year, Apple has let them down, but but a lot has been going on under the surface.

Many mobile-payment systems, including Google Inc.'s, use Near Field Communication technology as the starting point. To use Google Wallet at the point of sale, a consumer must have one of the few NFC-equipped smartphones running its Android software. Similarly, a merchant must have a terminal with the proper hardware to read the chip.

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