So What’s Going On With In-Car Mobile Payments, Anyway?

March 13, 2018         By: Steven Anderson

On the surface, there’s not much reason why in-car mobile payments haven’t taken off yet. The technology behind these is often inexpensive, doesn’t require much power, and fits handily into most any size of space. Moreover, it’s often based on currently-available software platforms. So why haven’t we seen much of this technology in cars yet? It turns out there are a few factors still getting in the way.

One of the biggest problem is that cars aren’t exactly super useful as payment devices right now. While the potential use cases are there—toll booths, fast-food drive thru windows, gas stations and so on—very few places have actually instituted the necessary infrastructure to put these functions to use. It would be like getting a car all dressed up with mobile payments options, but have nowhere to go.

This has been changing, of course; even McDonald’s will let you order from a mobile device for pickup at a drive-thru window, and plenty of others are doing likewise, some even doing it before McDonald’s did. Throw in the growing number of locations accepting cards through card readers, and the potential takes off from there.

One of the biggest software-side impediments, meanwhile, is compatibility; current operating system (OS) features and hardware support is surprisingly difficult owing in large part to the sheer number of such systems. Though there are some common threads like near-field communications (NFC), various encryption functions and the like, there’s still enough spread in the market to require some work.

Essentially, the notion of getting your car to be able to pay for gas or tolls or even your Whopper on the ride home is a more complex one than many may have expected. Worse, there’s a larger problem afoot here, too; why would users need these systems included in the car itself when many of these functions can be carried out from a smartphone? Why do I need an in-dash interface when a smartphone does the job just fine?

Though there are some laws governing the use of mobile devices while driving, the idea that an in-dash system may be the solution is somewhat shaky. So it will be a while before we see in-dash mobile payments, and even then, we may not see it that often.