The endurance of cash is costly—$200 billion per year for Americans, including the tabs they pay for using ATMs and checks, according to a study by Tufts University.
The time taken to get cash also entails costs, said Bhaskar Chakravorti, executive director of the Institute for Business in a Global Context at Tufts and co-author of the study.
Many experts blame entrenched networks, such as credit cards, as another reason Americans are being held back. U.S. credit and debit cards rely on magnetic stripes for swiping, a 40-year-old technology, for example, versus chip and pin cards read by electronic readers that the rest of the world is adopting quickly.
(Read more: Retail banks worst nightmare? Google)
Though many Android phones have these chips for near field communication (NFC), another obstacle is that many U.S. retailers have not installed readers that can work with a chip card.
"Only 1 million out of 8 million have been updated," Johnson said.
Several of the largest financial and telecom players are working to get their own mobile wallets up and running.
Isis, a mobile wallet venture spearheaded by Verizon, AT&T and T-Mobile, has been tested in the Southwest. Visa and MasterCard have their own wallets. And a consortium of a dozen big U.S. retailers, including Wal-Mart and Target, are forging a mobile payment network called MCX.
Time ultimately is on the side of a U.S. mobile system to handle tasks we still deal with like Luddites—boarding a plane, buying flowers, storing a passport.
"You'll be able to do anything," said Daniel Mattes, CEO of Jumio, a mobile and online payments company. "But for now, I must have five different mobile wallets."
—By Constance Gustke, Special to CNBC.com