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Next-gen payment systems

Companies envision ways to handle secure payments while on the go without physical credit cards, cash or checks.

PHOENIX--Even as PayPal has become almost ubiquitous for eBay and person-to-person transactions, it is tied to users' computers.

At the Demo '06 conference here on Wednesday, two companies presented services that they positioned as ways to handle secure payments while on the go without physical credit cards, cash or checks.

The first, Portland, Ore.-based PayWi, demonstrated how its service can let people pay for just about anything with their mobile phones.

The idea, explained PayWi CEO Dave Barram, is that consumers would sign up online, provide their personal and payment information, and then be able to use their account from anywhere, at any time, to settle a bill.

For example, Barram said, consumers could pay for an item at a retail store, pay for parking, send money to a friend or handle any number of other transactions. To do so, they would log in via their mobile phone, enter the merchant's information, how much the bill is, who is supposed to get the money and a five-digit PIN. Then the money would automatically be transferred to the intended recipient.

Another company presenting here, Pay By Touch also asserts that physical credit cards are obsolete.

Its service, which it said is deployed at two of the five largest American grocery chains, lets consumers pay for purchases by simply touching a finger scanner and entering a PIN.

Like with PayWi, the idea is that people sign up ahead of time and provide the necessary personal and financial information.

Then, they use a finger scanner at home or work to submit their fingerprint to the system.

This also works with Pay By Touch Online, the company's approach to obviating the sometimes-frustrating requirement of remembering a user ID and password for every online service people use. Instead, they attach their finger scanner to their computers and when they try to enter a site that employs the technology, they need only to scan their finger and enter a single PIN and the software authenticates them.

Thus, assuming a lot of sites partnered with Pay By Touch, consumers could expect to have to remember just a single PIN and then let their finger do the proverbial walking when it comes to logging in to the many sites they frequently use.

The problem with both these services is that they depend on heavy-duty implementation by brick-and-mortar and online retailers and merchants in order to be useful. And while there's certainly a motivation for merchants to get involved, a service as widely adopted as PayPal has not been able to convince many real-world or online retailers to accept it as a payment method.