"We've spoken to all of the top 100 merchants in the U.S., and about half will accept Apple Pay this year, with many more the following year," a company spokesperson said.
But interviews with analysts, merchants and others suggest that Apple's forecast may be too optimistic and that many retailers remain skeptical about the payment system.
The service is one of Apple's biggest bets, a chance to tie customers more tightly to its phones and its new smart watch, as well as to take a tiny bite from every retail transaction.
To assess Apple's progress, Reuters worked from the National Retail Federation's list of the top 100 U.S. Retailers, surveying the 98 that had brick-and-mortar outlets (two of the top 100 sell only online). Eighty-five supplied detailed responses, and 11 others supplied information only about whether or not they accept Apple Pay. Two did not respond.
While some of the country's top merchants said they use and like the mobile payment system, fewer than a quarter of the retailers said they currently accept Apple Pay, and nearly two-thirds of the chains said categorically they would not be accepting it this year. Only four companies said they have plans to join the program in the next year.
The top reasons retailers cited for not accepting Apple Pay  were insufficient customer demand, a lack of access to data generated in Apple Pay transactions and the cost of technology to facilitate the payments. Some merchants said they were holding out because they plan to participate in a new mobile payment system to be launched by a coalition of retailers later this year.