Well, its over. The long awaited launch of the Apple iPhone 5 has happened and just about everything that had been rumoured was officially released by Apple. The iPhone 5 comes with a taller 4″ screen, 20% lighter and thinner, aluminium back, smaller 8 pin digital connector, high speed 4G LTE network support, faster dual core A6 processor and new and improved earbuds. Pretty much everything had been leaked before the launch so none of these features were much of a surprise.
However, the one area, that I was convinced Apple would come out with a real game changer was to include the Near Field Communication (NFC) chip and link the new iOS 6 Passbook application with mobile payments using NFC. I was wrong! They didn’t. Apple VP Phil Schiller today came out with a weak statement that “Passbook does the kind of things that customers need today“. I don’t think so!
Passbook will be great for Loyalty Cards, Gift Cards, Airline and concert tickets – anything that has a 2D barcode to scan – but that’s nowhere near mobile payments. Apple have really missed a golden opportunity to help shape the mobile payments market and take a leadership position as they did with music and iTunes. Today Apple announced that they have 435 Million active iTunes accounts – all with current Credit Card and payment details, allowing one touch payment for iOS apps and even purchasing Apple products in selected Apple Stores. A huge number of accounts far more than Ebay / PayPal, Amazon or Google, and a great platform for payments.
NFC is not new technology, its been around since in 2004. RFID chips have been around far longer and are out there in countless million contactless payment cards from MasterCard (PayPass) and Visa (PayWave) – already in use in contactless payments. Apple has countless patents which include NFC including innovative patents which have the antenna imbedded in the front touch screen, and a number of patents around shopping lists and shopping applications. So you have to believe that NFC still has to be coming from Apple. Later.
But why wait for at least another year until the iPhone 6? Samsung, RIM, HTC, LG and Nokia now all have phones with NFC capabilities and will be well supported with Android and Windows 8 apps alongside the now far more flexible Google Wallet V2.0. Thanks to Visa, MasterCard and Amex contactless payment terminals are being rolled out at a fast pace. In Australia, they are becoming far more pervasive with major Supermarkets, fuel outlets, convenience stores, chemists, fast food chains providing contactless payment terminals at Point of Sale.
Could it be that in the big US and UK markets, the contactless payment infrastructure in retail is not as pervasive? Could it be that there hasn’t been a huge push from customers for this functionality? Since when did Apple believe that customer demand should determine what great services and features they include in their products? Is it more about who owns the customer relationship and how Apple could monetise the payment transaction and take their cut? Maybe that is still what needs to be sorted out? Today the banks, credit card companies and payment networks are taking that significant cut – and they are not about to give any of that up without a fight.
In any case Apple have missed a golden opportunity now in Mobile Payments to be the game changer and give NFC mobile payments the impetus that it needs to really get momentum. It will come, we will just have to wait longer and probably someone else will come to dominate that space. Who will that be? Google, PayPal, Square – it’s anyones guess.
A couple of weeks ago I posted an article by Brett King (author of Banking 2.0) on the LinkedIn Mobile Payment Strategy group. The article generated a lot of interesting comment from industry players around the world that I thought would be worth sharing on this blog. The link to the article and the LinkedIn group is here.
The article’s premise was that rather than being a threat to Cash payments, Mobile Payments are more likely to result in the Death of Plastic Cards. The recent Starbucks / Square deal demonstrated that payments can be made simpler with the use of mobile, without the fraud issues currently plaguing mag-stripe cards in particular. Brett stated that customers will flock to adopt the new payment technology to “a much simpler, better informed payments interaction, plastic just looks dumb, insecure and outmoded.”
I agree with Brett in that disruption in payments is not going to come from the incumbents (Amex, Visa and MasterCard), but from new players like Square, PayPal and Apple – its already started and will lead to fundamental changes in the Payment Card industry, eventually leading to the “Death of Plastic”.
Generally the comments on the article agreed that Mobile Payments will be disruptive leading to significant changes for both Cards and Cash usage for payments. Some key points that were also brought out included:
- Apple launching the new iPhone 5 with NFC will drive a lot of the adoption of NFC based mobile payments (see my earlier post on this topic here).
- Merchants will be the primary benefactors of the death of plastic with lower processing costs / merchant fees as new players come into the market with better value propositions (as per the Square / Starbucks deal).
- More convenience for the consumer including the bundling of coupons, offers, loyalty cards, receipts, etc automatically into the payment transaction and generating all the appropriate discounts.
Recently the speculation about the inclusion of Near Field Communications (NFC) in Apple’s iPhone 5 switched from “Yes it is definitely In” to “No it’s definitely Out“. I believe there is a strong case to support Apple including NFC in the iPhone 5 based on Apple doing things a little differently.
Later, further analysis of the photographs and the iPhone 5 construction came out with the view that NFC could not be included because the metal back of the new iPhone wouldn’t allow enough room for the NFC antenna and because of power consumption concerns in conjunction with the new LTE 4G comms technology that will be in the phone. See article here.
However, this is Apple so “Think Different“. Apple was granted a patent in April 2011, which covers the addition of an NFC antenna to the front touch screen sensor panel, eliminating the need for a separate space consuming RFID antenna.
With the inclusion of Passbook in iOS 6, Apple has implemented the infrastructure for an iWallet (as well as loyalty, coupons, tickets). Along with this, some 250 Million iTunes accounts all with Credit Card payment information, give Apple the ability to be a game changer yet again, this time in Payments. All that is missing is NFC, to actually transmit the payment information at Point of Sale – it has to be there.
With the recent acquisition of AuthenTec finger print security technology, Apple also has the ability to add additional bio-metric finger print scanning security to iPhone payments. This will address a lot of the security concerns with mobile payments and further smooth the way for the introduction of mobile payments and a great customer experience.
Meanwhile, Visa, MasterCard and major retailers have been quietly rolling out Contactless payment terminals at Point of Sale globally (over 150,000 in Australia alone) putting the retail infrastructure in place for NFC payments to take off. Watch this space.
All this, even without the recent moves that the competition (Google Wallet, ISIS, Square, PayPal) are making in mobile payments, means that Apple must move now or risk loosing the advantage in what will be a huge market. Hence, NFC must be there in the iPhone 5.
A recent survey conducted in the USA by Harris Interactive for Apigee, an online API management platform, has indicated that shoppers will be using their mobile phones more than ever. Many smartphone users have come to expect more than just an online presence from retailers, especially the younger demographic – where a smartphone app is becoming more important, as it allows them to do more when they are out shopping. Venture Beat Article is here.