The ability to pay with ‘contactless’ technology has been around for years, but it could become very popular in the UAE next year, particularly on smartphones.

In the UAE people carry almost two mobile phones per person, with smartphone penetration at a huge 78 percent. But cash is still king: MasterCard says only eight percent of consumer payments are made without cash.

[Compare UAE mobile phone plans | iPhone 6 Du and Etisalat plans]

Apple Pay – how does it work?

Apple, which seems to start a trend with every product it launches, unveiled its own mobile wallet in September.

Apple Pay uses an app, but there is no need to open it or even bring the phone’s display to life. Its Near Field Communication (NFC) antenna in the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus – and you must have one of the two handsets to use the technology – means you will be able to hold the handset near the contactless reader with your finger on the Touch ID button. A vibration and a beep confirm that the payment has been made.

Security is not an issue either, as the card details are never stored on Apple’s servers. A special device account number and security code are used to process payments, and Apple never shares card details. The system can even be suspended or wiped if you lose your iPhone or iPad, via Find My iPhone.

Need US credit card for Apple Pay in UAE

Google has been operating its own system, Google Wallet, which users tap to access virtual versions of credit cards, loyalty cards and Google offers, since 2011.

The bad news is that neither Apple nor Google’s system is available in the UAE. Both Google Wallet and Apple Pay are currently only available to users in the US, although you can use Apple Pay here if you have an American credit card and select the United States region in settings.

What’s worse is that Apple Pay is not officially coming to the UAE “in the near future”, MasterCard and Visa told Gulf News. And it’s not even expected to reach Europe until some time in 2015, according to Macworld.

Contactless payments at 16,000 terminals

But contactless technology has been firmly established in the UAE for more than two years.

Visa’s payWave system allows cardholders to wave their cards (as the name suggests) within 4cm of a card reader to pay for purchases, while MasterCard’s PayPass requires you to tap the card on the terminal.

[Related: MasterCard & Visa: What’s the difference?]

Payment solutions provider Network International has some 16,000 terminals allowing contactless payments through debit and credit cards in the UAE, from Costa Coffee to Burger King, cinema chains VOX and Reel, hypermarkets Lulu and Carrefour and hotels including Atlantis the Palm, Jumeirah Beach Hotel and JW Marriott. They will also allow smartphone payment by “mid to next year”, Network International says.

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e-Dirham and National Smart Wallet

At Gitex, the Ministry of Finance unveiled an e-Dirham mobile payment solution and e-wallet, in collaboration with the National Bank of Abu Dhabi (NBAD).

And last year, Mashreq launched its Tap ‘n’ Go system, which allows users to pay for purchases with their smartphone. All users have to do is to attach a sticker to their mobile, which converts a phone of any generation into a credit card. The sticker includes a number linked to the user’s credit card and the primary cardholder can request a replacement sticker or block it if necessary.

The UAE has a whole Smart Government initiative underway, including a National Smart Wallet (mobile wallet) app, also showcased at Gitex. It currently allows users to pay for public transport and at supermarkets. The mobile wallet services will be available by 2015.