The mobile wallet is still a niche product, but many companies worldwide made big strides in bringing secure payments to handheld devices. Some of the most groundbreaking changes happened just in the past year.
Apple Pay had a slow first year in the U.S., but that didn't stop it from spreading to multiple new markets. It now operates in the U.K., Canada and Australia, with plans for Spain, Singapore, Hong Kong and (reportedly) China in 2016.
Android Pay, Samsung Pay Come to Market
Following the lead of Apple's branding, Google and Samsung debuted their own separate takes on smartphone-based payments. In Google's case, this meant largely eliminating the troubled Google Wallet brand.
Starbucks Hits a Mobile Milestone
A pioneer in mobile payments, Starbucks regularly reports increasing usage of its mobile app for in-store transactions. This year, it passed the milestone of accepting mobile payments for one in five in-store sales.
Pumped Up Payments
Gas stations have an extra two years to add EMV hardware, but they are moving much faster with pump upgrades that support mobile payments. It's a striking shift for an industry that used to claim that using mobile phones at the pump was a fire hazard.
MCX Inches Forward
The Merchant Customer Exchange's mantra may well be that slow-and-steady will win the mobile wallet race. Rather than let the pressure of Apple Pay and other rivals push its CurrentC wallet into production, MCX let its retailer exclusivity agreements expire and kept to small tests in 2015, while lining up new alliances within the banking world.
HCE Gets Big
The Android operating system has proven a fertile ground for new mobile wallet projects based on its support for Host Card Emulation-based contactless payments. RBC, Capital One and others have built their own payment apps using this technology.
Square Shifts Its Strategy
Square's Starbucks processing deal was unprofitable, and its consumer-facing mobile wallet is a relic of the past. But the company is working with Apple to market its new NFC reader, which accepts Apple Pay and EMV-chip payments but not mag-stripe payments.
The reunification of Visa and Visa Europe, announced this year, gives the U.S.-based Visa access to Visa Europe's market expertise and gives Visa Europe access to its American counterpart's mobile and digital payments resources.
PayPal Peels Off
PayPal's split from eBay, which had owned the payments company since 2002, meant it could seek new partnerships with companies that were not comfortable with its previous ownership. These partnerships are helping transform PayPal into a stronger force in mobile and digital payments.
Visa and MasterCard have steadily spread their marketing of tokenization security, which kicked off with Apple Pay. Over the course of 2015, the card networks were busy placing the technology in more products, such as the MasterPass digital wallet.
Apple Watch Debuts
The April launch of the Apple Watch brought Apple Pay to the world of wearables. Companies like Swatch and Kerv are gearing up to launch their own payment jewelry in 2016.
Buy Buttons Blossom
The concept of a "buy button" embedded in social media and retailer apps gained strong momentum this year, with many companies seeking ways to streamline mobile commerce.