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Bill Gates heaps praise on Apple Pay

In a Bloomberg interview, Microsoft co-founder says once Apple gets involved in a new technology -- in this case, mobile payments -- it has more chance of gaining critical mass.

Bill Gates believes that using your cell phone to perform financial transactions represents progress. Bloomberg screenshot by Chris Matyszczyk/CNET

You might be forgiven for thinking that all the major tech companies resent each other's existence.

Tim Cook's criticism of Google's trustworthiness -- and Eric Schmidt's somewhat patronizing dismissal of that criticism -- suggest that not a kind word will pass from one tech leader to another.

Bill Gates, however, operates on a more exalted plane these days. His charitable work has involved a relentless insistence on solving some of the world's most vexing health and social problems.

Interviewed by Bloomberg this week, Gates spoke at some length about getting more of the "unbanked" poor into the financial system.

He was specifically asked about Apple Pay (at the 7:05 mark in the video), Cupertino's new method for supposedly seamless and more secure mobile payments.

"Apple Pay is a great example of how a cell phone that identifies its user in a pretty strong way lets you make a transaction that should be very, very inexpensive," he said.

He explained: "So the fact that in any application I can buy something, that's fantastic. The fact I don't need a physical card anymore, I just do that transaction and you're going to be quite sure about who it is on the other end, that is a real contribution."

Some wonder just how inconvenient credit cards are. Is it really such an imposition to take a card from a pocket or a wallet to pay? Is Apple Pay solving a problem that isn't too much of a problem?

Gates, though, said that Apple's true role was in creating the market: "All the platforms, whether it's Apple's or Google's or Microsoft, you'll see this payment capability get built in. That's built on industry standard protocols, NFC. And these companies have all participated in getting those going. Apple will help make sure it gets to critical mass for all the devices."

Competitors realize that once Apple gets involved in a certain idea, there's more of a chance for everyone.

Apple has two advantages. It has a vast number of high-worth individuals in its ecosystem. It also has a talent for making its devices simple to use.

Currently, when I see people wave their phones at the Starbucks checkout, it seems to take longer than those who clutch cash.

Gates was a little uncomfortable when asked why Microsoft hadn't been involved in such technology when he himself had written about the idea 20 years ago. He turned the conversation to other Microsoft priorities, such as Office.

Still, it's refreshing when so many other industry leaders are ready to dismiss their rivals as clownishly ill-informed, Gates is prepared to concede at least a little of what others have achieved.