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I suppose if you ask a fool’s question you’ll get a fool’s response.

In a new study on mobile wallets, Javelin Research investigated the “gang of five” — Apple, Google, Facebook, Amazon, and PayPal — and their ability to win or lose the still-developing war for the mobile wallet. Interestingly, all of them would lose to consumers’ primary financial institution, their bank.

Just as interestingly, however, three of those companies are essentially doing nothing with mobile wallets, and yet consumers think that they are the leading contenders to win. And current payments leaders VISA, MasterCard, and American Express aren’t even in the conversation.

Mobile wallet organize“Apple, Google, Amazon, Facebook, and PayPal/eBay are uniquely positioned to capture market share in the mobile-social tech cycle. Each company has a platform of consumers that are successfully transitioning from the online to the mobile world,” the Javelin report says. “Each member of the Gang of Five is working mightily to remain in position by providing an ecosystem of apps, games, products, books, movies, and entertainment to retain eyeballs as consumers move to smartphones and tablets.”

The assumption is then, that this gang of five is uniquely positioned to become a mobile wallet.

Apple, however, has shown no such inclination. Passbook is a mostly-unused app to manage loyalty cards, gift cards, and the like, but it has no payment capability. Amazon has been rumored to be launching a smartphone — and with it, perhaps a payments system — for years, but in spite of the fact that the company has a virtual currency for Kindle apps and content, there’s no sign of a full-scale Amazon wallet, unless you count the leather ones for sale on its store.

(Which are, I suppose, mobile — in a sense.)

isis mobile wallet slide mwcAnd while rumbles of a Facebook Wallet product have been rumbling for years, and the company did at one point have a Facebook Credits virtual currency, there’s no credible evidence that the billion-person social network is about to establish a mobile wallet solution.

I mean, come on … we can’t trust Facebook to keep our clipping toenails now — yay! status updates private. Are we going to going to trust possibly the greatest force for publicity in our world today with our private financial data?

Consumers have bought in, at least when they’re asked on a survey.

Apple, with no mobile wallet product to speak of and a long track record of refusing to put NFC into the iPhone platform to enable payments, is ranked as the “most innovative” when Javelin asked them about the gang of five and mobile wallets. That cannot be anything other than brand spillover from categories where Apple is innovative to categories where it, smartly and correctly, has decided not to play.

And there’s no doubt that giants like Apple, Amazon, and Facebook, if they decided to enter the mobile wallet fray (which, some would argue, barely even exists yet), could stake out a strong position. They’re just that big, and they just would not be able to be ignored. But Google is much more of a contender, with massive global share via Android, and an actual, shipping, live, real, not-vaporware mobile wallet on both Android and — yes, beating Apple — iPhone.

But consumers have retained some degree of sense.

PaypalPayPal, which has consistently destroyed its competition in market awareness for its digital wallet solutions, is the highest-rated gang-of-five member for privacy protection — something the company has built painstakingly through over a decade of working out the real complexities and challenges of actually running a global payments system.

That’s something the other members of this so-called gang of five — Google included — have never done.

In other words, there’s more that is required to win in payments and mobile payments than size, and position, and brand. Which is why MasterCard, VISA, and American Express, all of which have multiple decades of experience of running massive global payments system, have a shot at winning or placing the sweepstakes as well, with products like PayWave and ISIS (which Google has partnered with), PayPass, and more.

Their challenge, of course, is being who they are: big and slow.

Which means that innovative younger competitors like PayPal — and Square — still have a great shot at this developing space. And why PayPal is probably still the company to beat.

Which Javelin also recognizes:

“PayPal provides a combination that is difficult to beat,” the report says. “With its Discover Financial Services provider and deals with merchant acquirers … PayPal projects it will be found in up to two million physical world merchants by the end of the year.”

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