Telecommunications, Automotive and Market Research

More than 15 years in the mobile telecommunications industry and an industry analyst since 1998.

Monday, November 28, 2011

New and Interesting NFC Developments

After my little hiatus, I've been finding the pace of near field communication (NFC) deployments and trials is picking up its pace.  Here's a sampling of what's been happening.

This is the area I've long said has to get the focus of development in order to lay the groundwork for mobile payments (groundwork means enough phones having NFC capability). These are primarily small deployments, minor applications, but are the sort of thing that is going to be needed to get people thinking about NFC, using it, and, more important, developers finding ways to integrate NFC into useful, productive, profitable applications.

Blackberry Tag was announced by Research in Motion in early October. 
[Tag] will allow users to share contact information, documents, URLs, photos and other multimedia content by simply tapping their BlackBerry smartphones together. BlackBerry Tag will also enable friends to instantly add one another as contacts on BBM™ (BlackBerry® Messenger). 
RIM took the industry lead last year when it announced it would eventually include NFC in all its devices. RIM is also opening its NFC application programming interface to allow developers to start making their own NFC apps.

Media Junction deploys smart posters for Jamiroquoi's European concert tour. Despite the lack of NFC-equipped phones (only the Google Nexus S and Samsung Tocca). Neil Cartwright of Media Junction says the phones will "automatically sense the contact and take the user to a webpage on their mobile browser. Users will be able to share the page with other fans and friends once viewed and they know secret URL.  The exclusive content, a behind-the-scene video, was specially commissioned for the promotion to provide a strong incentive for fans to tap on the poster."

Vox Cinemas in Dubai started using NFC for in-theater promotions using smart posters. The system was introduced by Proxama.  Exit displays allow NFC phone users to tap a tag to access movie listings and a Nokia Facebook 'Like' page.

Art Lovers Rate Exhibits with NFC at the STRP Festival in Netherlands. According to NXP, the semiconductor company that provides NFC chipsets, "By simply tapping a work of art with an NFC enabled device, visitors can rate pieces... Enabling visitors to share their appreciation for the arts with their friends via social media, the Android app also gives visitors information about the art through a synthesized voice." I'm not completely certain what a "synthesized voice" is, but but at least uses NFC.

A Concept Medical Device called MiniME is a personal device that monitors "ECG, blood pressure, heart rate, pulse oximetry, body temperature, blood glucose, cholesterol, hemoglobin and prothrombin time. Data are communicated through a cloud or internet site and shared with healthcare professionals via mobile devices." Even though it's not expected to become a commercial device in its current form, the MiniME, designed by Sweden's Ergonomidesign is expected to bring together all the stakeholders in the remote monitoring ecosystem.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Google Making More Wallet Progress

OK, now things are getting even better.

Remember Google Checkout? That's a way you can consolidate your purchasing information into a single credential that you could use at a wide range of e-commerce web sites. I'm no expert and haven't used it before, but it seems like a good idea but nothing that's too earth-shaking.

Remember Google Wallet? It was a way you could consolidate your purchasing information into your cell phone.

Now Google is putting the two of them together and replacing Google Checkout with Google Wallet. Anybody who had agreed to accept Google Checkout is automatically transitioned to Google Wallet.

I mean, think about it... I wouldn't want to use a separate payment method online and in real life (oh, wait; I do that right now with PayPal feeding my debilitating addiction to art deco clocks from the 1930s. I don't use the PayPal account for anything else. Pity)

Understanding the Vision 
Google's move means that we're moving closer still to the mobile wallet replacing the leather wallet. Rather than having separate operations serving the online and in-person purchase, having a single entity handle both kinds of payments is more like the way we use the credit and debit cards in our own wallets.

What about Privacy?
Well, there is the privacy thing. You have to remember Google makes its money from advertising and its ads are successful because of targeting... targeting that comes from knowing so much about you. When you unify all your purchasing, you're also providing all your entire purchase history -- online and real life -- to Google. It's important to remember with companies like Google (and Facebook) that you are NOT the customer... you are the product. And the more information you willingly provide, the more valuable you are as an advertising target.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Google Wallet Looking More and More Like a Wallet

Ever since the first report I wrote about mobile wallets in 2006, I had identified as the key obstacle competition among the players, especially competition based on the technology.

In Japan, all the mobile operators unified under a single trade name (osaifu-keitai, or wallet phone), even thought it was originated by one of the major mobile operators, NTT DoCoMo. All three operators also adopted the same technology, the near-field communication variant called FeliCa

In the US, heavy competition and a hands-off approach by regulatory bodies had caused many delays or the death of some new, interesting technologies (remember AM Stereo? I didn't think so).
These will be getting thinner and thinner

However, an announcement last week shows that there's more cooperation than competition among the key players for mobile wallet (and ultimately, mobile payments): VISA and Google have agreed to put VISA's PayWave technology and brand name in Google Wallet phones

PayWave cards and dongles are already offered through a number of issuing banks including BarclayCard, BB&T, Chase, PNC, Wells Fargo and others. 

Hey, prospects for mobile wallet are getting better, aren't they?
You bet they are. The things I believe are going to be required to push the entire market forward are the open wallet concept, rather than the closed system initially proposed - and abandoned - by Isis. For the ultimate success, mobile wallet is going to have to replace everything you now keep in your leather wallet: ID, gym membership, loyalty cards, all your credit and debit cards, library card, pictures of the kids and all the other things. And only after ALL those things are possible will the mobile payments component of the mobile wallet be ready for its inevitable success. 

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Isis making the right moves

It's with considerable hope that I watch some recent announcements from (and about) Isis, the joint venture of AT&T, T-Mobile and Verizon Wireless.

First, Isis CEO Michael Abbott has been saying the right things about the "competition" Isis would face from Google Wallet. Instead of putting Google down or dismissing it (as Square's Chief Operating Officer recently did about its NFC competitors), Isis is supportive of its huge competitor, recognizing that Google's success in the market will surely propel the entire segment forward.

Second, Isis is expanding the expected scope of its 2012 rollout from one city (Salt Lake City) to two (Austin, Texas). Reportedly there will be fewer than 1 million phones involved with the rollouts, which sounds extremely ambitious when you consider the two cities have a combined population of 2.8 million.

Third, Isis has been hinting at having three banks involved with their rollout, without naming the banks. However, there have been reports that JP Morgan Chase will be providing a credit account and CapitalOne offering a prepaid card. BarclayCard was part of the of Isis's initial closed-system business plan.

What does it all mean?
In my estimation, these three items point to some acceleration of the realization of NFC mobile payments in the U.S. I've said it before, though: we need to be considering ways to encourage non-payment NFC applications such this NFC building access application for BlackBerry. Just don't expect things to happen immediately. It's going to be a while before there is enough infrastructure to support a robust cellphone-payment ecosystem.

Interested in seeing the numbers?
By the way, I published a forecast for report at GigaOm concerning NFC handsets and a variety of NFC applications, which you can see here... you need to be a member of GigaOM Pro to read the whole thing