Asia is destined to lead the way in smart-card use, with an expected annual growth rate of 35 per cent, according to an industry analyst. Europe was the world's biggest user of smart cards, but the Asia Pacific region was the fastest growing, said Duncan Brown, a research director at Ovum analyst group. Asia was expected to have a 23 per cent share of the world's smart-card market by 2003 - up from the present 11 per cent - with Hong Kong as a potential driving force in electronic commerce, he said. Hong Kong has a better chance of implementing e-commerce widely because of its large and geographically dense population. It was 'pioneering a lot of the application types of smart cards that the rest of the world is going to follow', he said. An example was the Octopus stored-value card used across various types of transport. Mr Brown said the growth of smart-card use worldwide would be driven by the increasing variety of applications being developed. Prepayment cards - such as Octopus - are among the most popular applications, while electronic cash is 'still in the very early stages of application adoption, despite all the marketing hype'. Electronic cash systems were complicated to develop and deploy. As well, they were 'hard to accept culturally' by people accustomed to cash but confused by cash cards, he said. Smart cards also lack universally accepted standards, another factor blamed for the slow adaptation of the technology in the United States. Without a standard, smart cards cannot be inter-operable. A Mondex electronic cash card, for example, will work only in dedicated machines. JavaCards and Multos (multi-application operating system) are two smart-card platforms battling to be the standard. Mr Brown was sceptical that a 'workable' JavaCard - based on an application programming interface (API) by Sun Microsystems - would be available in volume before 2001. 'The JavaCard is not yet ready to be deployed worldwide,' he said. 'The security and robustness is unproven.' Sun, with credit-card company Visa as a key backer, says JavaCard's API is based on open standard and therefore better than Multos. MasterCard, meanwhile, says Multos is a more secure alternative. Java's big selling point is that its API can be written once and deployed on many platforms without the need for re-programming. Mr Brown said, however, that according to the JavaCard specification, a Java applet which was deployed across various smart cards would need several versions written. A possible outcome to the dispute would see JavaCard and Multos technology used in the same card. 'Personally, I don't think that it would make technological sense, but it would make political sense,' said Mr Brown.