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Yes, Apple Does Have the Makings of a Pretty Great Mobile Payments System, Says Tim Cook

"It's a big opportunity."

Asa Mathat
Peter Kafka covers media and technology, and their intersection, at Vox. Many of his stories can be found in his Kafka on Media newsletter, and he also hosts the Recode Media podcast.

A few days ago, the Wall Street Journal reported that Apple was contemplating making a big push into mobile payments, fueled by all those credit cards it has on file and the new fingerprint sensors it is building into its phones.

And today, during Apple’s earnings call, an analyst more or less asked Tim Cook to confirm those plans.

Everyone knows better than to ask Apple to discuss a product they haven’t announced, and Apple’s CEO didn’t announce anything. But Cook sure did seem to indicate that they’ve got something in the works, referring to payments as “intriguing” and an “opportunity.”

Here’s my paraphrase of the question (apologies to the analyst, whose name I can’t decipher on first pass): Can you talk about mobile payment markets, and use of the touch sensor at iTunes, and how you think about this as an opportunity?

And here’s a transcript of Cook’s response:
“Let me sort of avoid the last part of the question. But in general, we’re seeing that people love being able to buy content, whether it’s music or movies or books, from their iPhone, using Touch ID. It’s incredibly simple and easy and elegant. And it’s clear that there’s a lot of opportunity there.

“The mobile payments area in general is one that we’ve been intrigued with and that was one of the thoughts behind the Touch ID. But we’re not limiting ourselves just to that.

“So I don’t have anything specific to announce today, but you can tell by looking at the demographics of our customers, and the amount of commerce that goes through iOS devices versus the competition, that it’s a big opportunity on the platform.”

Now, recall that Cook has repeatedly described TV as an area of “intense interest” to Apple. And so far the only thing Apple has done with its Apple TV product is make some modest expansions to its library of apps. It’s possible that payments could fall into the “one day, sure,” bucket.

But at first blush, this seems like a different bucket.

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