Apple CEO Tim Cook
Apple CEO Tim Cook - 
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Apple is hosting a big event for consumers and the press on Tuesday, and along with a new iPhone model and the long-rumored "iWatch," the tech world is buzzing with the possibility that one or both devices will allow for mobile payments.

Europeans can simply tap their credit cards to make a payment, a system that’s more secure than swiping a magnetic strip. Many African countries use mobile payment systems because they’re more convenient and safer than cash. But the U.S. has historically lagged a bit when it comes to adopting new payment technologies, says Deborah Baxley, a principal at CapGemini.

“In some ways, the good is the enemy of the better,” she says, explaining that the current system in the U.S. generally works well. “From the consumers’ point of view, it’s very fast and convenient.”

Plus, there’s a chicken-and-egg problem with new technologies: merchants don’t want to install them until they’re widely used, but consumers won’t adopt them until the infrastructure is in place to use them.

That could change with events hosted by Apple and Intel on Tuesday. The companies may debut products with near-field communication technology, or NFC, which would allow consumers to pay for purchases by holding their device near a register, instead of swiping a credit card.

More than simply replacing the plastic card, the real promise of a so-called mobile wallet is the benefits it could offer consumers, says Rajesh Kandaswamy, a research director with Gartner. “For instance, with your discounts [and] deals automatically applying, that is interesting for the consumer.”

Follow Tracey Samuelson at @tdsamuelson