PayPal inches closer to a usable mobile wallet

My colleague Kevin Fitchard reports that PayPal has overhauled its mobile app in a step toward providing a more comprehensive mobile wallet. Users can now order food ahead of time at certain restaurants, receive coupons for goods and services based on their location, and pay their restaurant tabs at the table through their phones. And PayPal said it is developing a feature enabling users to peruse the menu and order through the app, which alerts the server.

But while PayPal boasts that paying with your phone has never been so easy, The Verge takes a close look at the app and finds it powerful but baffling. The user interface is inconsistent based on which function is being used, according to writer Casey Newton, and a navigation bar is more confusing than helpful. “And it’s frustrating,” Newton writes, “because all the features actually work.”

Loyalty programs and location-based offers are a great way of providing added value in mobile payments, and — as I’ve written time and again — that added value will be necessary to entice consumers to use their phones rather than credit cards or cash to pay at the point of sale. But Newton is absolutely right that simplicity will also be crucial for any mobile wallet initiative to finally gain mass-market traction. Very few consumers will take the time to learn a new way to pay when the old ways are so simple.