CurrentC, the mobile payments solution backed by big retailers such as Target, Walmart, and Best Buy, might not launch this year after all, and some member stores are now throwing their support behind Apple Pay.
Retail consortium MCX, which runs CurrentC, will still kick off a pilot program in a few weeks in Columbus, Ohio. But MCX CEO Brian Mooney told Recode that the group isn't rushing a wider rollout, despite earlier plans for a mid-2015 public launch.
"This is a long game," Mooney said. "Certainly going faster is always better--that's not necessarily a debatable point. But we're going to do it right."
Why this matters: If you have an iPhone 6, 6 Plus, or Apple Watch and wonder why Apple Pay doesn't work at more major retail stores, CurrentC is partly to blame. MCX members CVS and RiteAid started blocking NFC recognition for Apple Pay last fall, and several other members are bound by exclusivity agreements. But those agreements are now lapsing , and without a working version of CurrentC, retailers like RiteAid, Best Buy, and Dunkin Donuts are running to Apple Pay instead. It's textbook schadenfreude for people who just want a simple mobile payments solution right now.
The delays for CurrentC might be upsetting if the program was actually enticing, but CurrentC has numerous issues even in its pre-launch state.
The very way it works is not as simple as Apple Pay, which lets users pay by tapping a payment terminal while holding a finger over the iPhone's TouchID button (or double-tapping the side button on an Apple Watch). With CurrentC, users must unlock their phones, open the CurrentC app, enter another four-digit PIN, then scan a barcode.
Another major sticking point: CurrentC doesn't support traditional credit cards. Instead, users must pay with a debit card, pre-paid card, or store-specific credit card. That's largely because retailers want to dodge the transaction fees that typically come with credit card purchases, but why should consumers care about that? CurrentC is hoping to sweeten the deal with "exclusive offers, coupons, and promotions," but it's anyone's guess how good these bonuses will actually be. (Mooney told Recode that CurrentC could potentially support credit cards in the future.)
MCX also brought some security concerns upon itself last year, when hackers made off with an e-mail list of early testers. Given that CurrentC stores encrypted payment information in the cloud, and requires both a driver's number and social security number for identity verification, users could reasonably be concerned about the group's ability to keep that data safe.
It's nice that MCX is committed to getting things right before releasing CurrentC. Still, it has so many issues in its current state that MCX will have a lot of work to do if it expects to launch CurrentC at all.