"Expect chaos for the next five to 10 years," says David Wood, senior director of business development for mobile payment technology provider C-SAM.
Many, many new mobile wallets are in use, and without any clear drive to consolidate, the market will remain chaotic for merchants in the near-term, says Wood.
From the consumer's perspective, it won't be chaotic at all, says Dodd Roberts, an executive with the retailers' Merchant Customer Exchange (MCX) venture.
"The consumer will download three or four of their favorite payment applications, reflecting the companies they are most loyal to, and then maybe another one for all of the other places they go," Roberts says.
Roberts, Wood and other mobile wallet experts discussed emerging payment technologies at the annual Ramp Mobile Retail Services conference this week in Chicago.
Roberts' prediction reflects the "MCX promise" to develop a mobile wallet that consumers can use at all retail locations, as well as within the mobile apps of their favorite stores.
"We want to consolidate all cards in one place," he says. "We want ubiquity of acceptance, an app that a consumer can use at all places they shop."
Peter Fredell, CEO of Sweden-based mobile wallet developer Seamless, says consumers tend to download the same number of mobile pay apps as "however many cards they carry in their physical wallet."
Regardless of what types of wallets and underlying programs are developed, consumer adoption likely will be slow, Wood says.
"Most consumers don't know what they want," Wood says. "Mobile or online bill paying took three to four years to take hold, and that is probably what will happen with mobile wallets."
Technology questions will linger for some time. The telcos' Isis mobile wallet joint venture uses Near Field Communication for contactless payments, whereas Apple —long rumored to be planning an NFC iPhone — has so far gone in an entirely different direction with its Passbook app, which adds features to existing mobile wallet apps.
"I have seen as much indication that Apple will support Near Field Communication as much they will not," says Jim Stapleton, chief sales officer for Isis.
Generally, experts say merchants should address mobile payments as a business question instead of a technology question.
"This is not a fast-follower opportunity," says Cliff Mason, executive vice president of payments for Swift Exchange. "You have to think this out, but get something out there for your customers … You can always change it in the future."