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There might be hope, after all


BlackBerry Messenger

BlackBerry Messenger

BlackBerry will not give up. Even though their latest generation of SmartPhones is not really taking off, the Canadian firm is still trying to find avenues to stay afloat. There was a first move opening BlackBerry Messenger (BBM) to other platforms, followed by the latest announcement of a pilot to allow monetary transactions over BBM. There might still be hope for the Canadian manufacturer, by focusing in monetising what once made them strong: Their level of security, and giving up what they are not really catching up with: Mobile Devices.

There are certain markets where BlackBerry remains strong, and where BBM enjoys a greater market share than WhatsApp (India, Indonesia and Canada amongst a few others). Seems logical to capitalise on their success in these core markets as well as the dominant position of BBM as the messaging app of choice.

Indonesia, once known as BlackBerry country, still accounts for more than 15 million users, and is the market of choice to launch their latest proposal, one that could definitely help increase the loyalty of Indonesians to the brand, but not sure whether it would be enough to attract new users to the platform. Named BlackBerry Money, the app allows BlackBerry users to link a bank account to their BBM identity, allowing to send money to other BBM users. In essence, a stored value account gets associated to the users BBM identity, where money can be used to make payments to friends and merchants. It can also be used to buy airtime from the user’s carrier and to send money back to their bank account upon receiving payments.

Fragmented market

There are quite a few mobile person to person payment solutions available, but the market is quite fragmented, with no proposition really having the critical mass required to become the de facto mobile payments standard. Barclays is one of the market players, with Pingit seeing quite a success in the United Kingdom. For BlackBerry Money to have a chance, it would need to be made available to all platforms where BBM is available. Only this way could it have the critical size to become the mobile payment platform of choice for consumers.money

Processing the payment

One of the key aspects when monetising mobile payments is the payment processor. Google still looks shy with Wallet whilst Apple is yet to make a move. Both companies have an enormous amount of Customer credit cards on file, and would probably be tempting for them to materialise payments by using credit card issuers, although this might be a gross misinterpretation and they might have bigger plans in the making to eat the credit card issuers cake. In the meantime, BlackBerry is teaming up with local banks and going towards a stored value model which gives them a certain degree of freedom on processing and eventually establishing (and receiving) the fees.

Quite an interesting move from the Canadian manufacturer, and one that could mean there might be hope, after all.

 

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Fitness, Gamification and Payments – or what the iPhone 6 should bring to the party


So this could be it, the next generation of the iPhone seems to squeeze into a thinner case to possibly maintain it’s volume while finally going beyond a 4 inch screen.

Possible iPhone 6 prototype

Possible iPhone 6 prototype – Photo courtesy of MacRumours

Form factor aside, there are two elements that I believe would be the next trend setters: Fitness and Payments.

Payments

Your phone will be your wallet

Your phone will be your wallet

For the last two generations we have been missing NFC to be packed into the iPhone, sending a clear signal that this is not what Apple believed in for the short range / contactless communications required for mobile payments. In exchange, the iBeacon technology was introduced in iOS7, built over bluetooth 4.0, by making use of the BLE (Bluetooth Low Energy) standard.

In short, iBeacons are indoor located, low-power, low-cost emitting devices that, making use of the BLE, can make iOS devices in their vicinity aware of their presence. This enables all sort of use cases based on close proximity, allowing for any system to send notifications to your iPhone. The main advantage over NFC is that is doesn’t require any specific hardware on the mobile device, as it operates over Bluetooth 4.0, and it broadens the possibilities well beyond sending payments from a POS to a mobile device for them to be authorised (remember that fingerprint reader in the iPhone 5S?), retailers are already using iBeacons to enhance and augment shopping experiences.

Bits and pieces of the eventual payments ecosystem have been gradually introduced, with Passbook, introduced in iOS6 possibly playing a role in storing your payments information in conjunction with iCloud keychain. iBeacons would solve the problem of communicating with the mobile device to exchange the payment information and get the operation authorised.

It’s yet to be seen how far will Apple want to go, as this model would just automate and mobilise payments and allow for Customers to digitise their credit cards, but essentially the payment method would still be a credit card, which limits the revenue Apple would get should they become a payment processor. With about a billion credit cards on file, it’s difficult to believe they wouldn’t want to make the jump, but that’s possibly material for another post on the matter.

Fitness

Nike Fuel Band

Nike Fuel Band

It’s not a secret that games are the most highly ranked and rated mobile apps in all platforms, together with the most retained. Such is the difference with other applications that a whole science has been crafted to bring what makes games so addictive to other applications and businesses: Gamification.

Gamification is the use of game thinking and game-mechanics in a non-game context to engage users and solve problems. 

Wikipedia

Gamification techniques are based on human’s natural desire for competition, achievement, status and altruism, and can be implemented into applications in different manners:

  • Rewarding the customer for accomplishing desired tasks (badges, levels, virtual currency or just showing a progress bar)
  • Encouraging competition by making achievements and rewards visible to other players or providing leader boards
  • Integration with Social Media increases visibility and leverages the power of referral and recommendation, together with the engagement and competition with friends and relatives for progress

Quite a few companies have understood these dynamics and are getting increased engagement in all sort of fields, and fitness couldn’t be a better example. SmartPhones have been good companions in fitness in the last few years, and recent developments like Fitbit or Nike with Nike+ are putting all the Gamification ingredients in the shaker to create a perfect SmartPhone-Fitness-Social Media triangle. These companies are having to develop hardware to cover for the natural lack of fitness specific sensors in SmartPhones, but that is possibly going to change, and here is where I believe the iPhone 6 will again step ahead of the competition.

Reportedly, Apple would be packing into the 6 a few sensors that would enhance it’s fitness capabilities, like the ability to measure heart rate. The motion coprocessor is already there and tracks your movements with precision, so with new additions the 6 could be the perfect fitness companion. Game!

Capturing the fleeting business


Nokia Lumia 820 onboard POS

Nokia Lumia 820 onboard POS

While still struggling in the consumer market, some potential success stories start to emerge for the Nokia and Windows Phone tech marriage. Turning a Nokia Lumia 820 into a mobile point of sale with specific apps connected to their booking and payment systems, allows to capture a very short-lived business opportunity like on board paid upgrades.

Onboard connectivity definitely plays a role in the success of the initiative, but more importantly, paves the way for the next level of loyalty recognition and rewarding on the spot thanks to the connection with the centralized CRM systems.

A promising prospect for Delta and Nokia/Microsoft and definitely a big scale experiment with 19.000 units distributed amongst Delta’s Cabin Crew.

More about this story:

Nokia Lumia 820 Flying High With Delta Airlines

Delta Streamlines In-flight Customer Service With New Windows Phone Handheld Devices For Flight Attendants

Apple to enter into mobile payments?


Your phone will be your wallet

Your phone will be your wallet

Last week at WWDC, Apple introduced iOS 6 amongst others. Without entering into two much detail about the hundreds of new features that the new OS will bring, there is one that reveals that Apple might be taking a serious look at mobile payments. With the introduction of Passbook in iOS 6, your iPhone will turn into a very convenient digital repository to place all sorts of digital goodies. Vouchers, loyalty cards, promotion codes, QR codes, which include boarding passes, and movie tickets, just to name a few. These can even be geotagged, so they would become active whenever you are near the target location.

Interesting and definitely very useful, but not outstanding from other competitors which are already offering partial solutions to this problem. Likely to have a wonderful user experience though, and would define standards so that companies can create their own passbook-able digital goodies. Apparently big players in different industries are already signing up for the new platform.

However, this touches some of the items that other companies are defining around a potentially very lucrative industry: mobile payments. Storing credit / debit / stored value cards in your mobile phone would be no secret, and would be similar to Google Wallet, which opens the door to adding more intelligence to the physical moment of payment.

Apple Passbook

Apple Passbook

Game changing?

There are many different ways into which Apple might decide to introduce mobile payments, but considering their usual appetite to be real game changers, it will be interesting to see if they have anything awaiting down their sleeve.

So far the traditional approach would be to use cards stored in the phone –in Passbook- to be used through NFC (it is yet to be seen whether iPhone 5 would ship with NFC, even though many rumors point in this direction) the integration with Passbook and other digital goodies such as vouchers, loyalty points, etc would help create a more interactive payment experience, but this would not be seen as a breakthrough as it would be quite similar to the ecosystem defined by Google around Wallet. And above all, Apple would be making not –or little- money out of this.

The payments ecosystem is complex and involves many actors. From issuers to merchants, it’s an industry which has a great dependency on a very established infrastructure, and in which having the right coverage and capillarity to reach a high percentage of POS (Points Of Sale) where new technologies of mobile payments would be accepted.  This will surely be a challenge, even for a company with the drive and ability to massively push technology as Apple. NFC, with support from many companies will take some time to takeoff until a large number of Points of Sale are upgraded to support the near field technology. Yes, it is getting lots of support from mobile phone manufacturers, but merchants are yet to catch up (one-third of POS expected by end of 2012, with 2% at mid 2011 in the US).

So having set the scene, it will be very interesting to see what Apple has to offer in the mobile payments space, whether they will just rely on their ability to attract merchants to adopt Passbook as their natural digital distribution platform for digital goodies -and eventually payment methods- while reusing the existing NFC standards and Card issuers as Mastercard, Visa or American Express, or whether they will decide to change the way we understand mobile payments the same way they did with the way we understood the SmartPhone or even the way we consumed music.

NFC beyond payments


The spread and adoption of NFC seems to be gaining momentum in the industry, with a number of terminals either supporting or having the intention to support the technology. With the exception of Apple, who still have to make a move in this space, most SmartPhone manufacturers are already shipping NFC-enabled devices, updated list can be checked here.

With strong support from key industry players like Visa or MasterCard, and with Google redefining the whole payments ecosystem, the late 2011 and early 2012 will see the consolidation of NFC as a standard feature in mid to high-end SmartPhones. Yet more to see if Apple decides to include the technology in their yet-to-be-seen iPhone 5.

While contactless payments will continue to be the source of growth for a number of years, however there are many other uses and applications that are strongly emerging, which promise a bright future for this technology. NFC is here to stay.

SmartPhones have been gradually conquering other devices space, replacing your agenda, phone, photo and video camera, business card holder… and even computer with very advanced applications being available out there in the respective appstores. The next thing to come is clearly your wallet, changing your old-fashioned plastic credit cards for their virtual counterparts.

Cash Cards have been successfully implemented in some markets, whilst others are still hesitant to make use of them. The burden of balance top-up is still something to be resolved. NFC can boost the usage of these, as they are really convenient for day to day micro payments where a contactless, signatureless payment can be really convenient. Vending machines, public transportation, paying a taxi or your coffee at Starbucks are likely to be done with a cash card, which now you will be able to store in your SmartPhone. And guess what, recharge it directly from your banking account too!.

But there is room for NFC beyond payments.

Merchants offering loyalty cards, with or without stored value can benefit of this technology. You have loyalty cards from a couple of airlines, half a dozen hotels, your favorite coffee shop and a myriad of other merchants. Now all of them can fit comfortably in your NFC-enabled phone, and you can easily track your points, miles and rewards easily in one single place.

Access Control through NFC

Access Control through NFC

Access control

Modern houses use cards and readers to access doors and gates instead of traditional keys, pretty much like you would see in any hotel. Wouldn’t it be nice to use your SmartPhone to access home?. And it would not stop here, home automation might be one of the next things to be conquered by your SmartPhone, so start guessing the possibilities here.

Anywhere requiring identification in the form of a card can benefit of NFC for access control, so will no longer have to carry your identification badge with you. Your phone does.

Information sharing

The next best thing is information sharing. In the era of Social Media, it is all about sharing. Also in the physical world, where you are likely to exchange your business card when you meet someone, give your phone number or your facebook profile to someone you just met, or leave your card to participate in the next lucky draw. All of them can now be done by putting your phone close enough, so you can transfer your contact details, social media profiles or leave a reduced version of your contact details on a merchant. How many times have you been asked to write down the same contact details on a hotel at check-in?. Guess what, never again.

And the last, yet best

Angry Birds Magic

Angry Birds Magic

It had to be Rovio and in had to be Angry Birds to give us the latest example of NFC. The latest version of their ultra-popular game, still only available on the new NFC-enabled Nokia C7,

allows gamers to contact other gamers to unlock new levels of the addictive game. Fun?.

The NFC Ecosystem


Mobile Payments through NFC

Mobile Payments

The technology

From a technology point of view, NFC (Near Field Communications) might not imply a great revolution. In a nutshell, it is an evolution of the RFID shortfield technology that has been in use for years now, adding the possibility of bidirectional communications. With RFID, your device could send some data to the receiver, but no dialogue was possible, allowing for very simple, low value applications.

So being an improvement from RFID, there is nothing too fancy about it as a technology feature. Smartphones today support various types of communications which serve different purposes, like their Wi Fi support, 3G and Bluetooth. So what is NFC bringing to the party?. The main beauty might be in its own nature. It is near field, which means it has very short range, typically up to 4 inches. This has a double advantage, first, it makes it more difficult to intercept (even though it is not impossible) and secondly, it demands very little power from the device.

Finally a solution that allows communication between two devices positioned close enough in a reasonably private manner, that demands very little space and power. How is this little thing becoming the next big thing in Mobile?.

Payments, payments and payments

A number of industries are really excited about the massive introduction of this technology in our devices. Key players from Device Manufacturers, Carriers, Financial Services Institutions, Internet giants, all of them are making their moves in the adoption of this technology. Samsung is including NFC chips in their latest Smartphones, while Google’s wallet makes use of NFC chips to replace your old fashioned plastic credit card. Even AT&T, Verizon and T-Mobile have teamed to create the ISIS commerce network supporting NFC payments.

In essence, the NFC chip can communicate with the point of sales device in the merchant, transmitting the necessary information so that the payment transaction can be performed, exactly as you would do with your standard credit card. Typically there will be an application in your smartphone that allows you to store your credit and debit cards information in a secure manner, and that requests a PIN number in order to access that information, securing the usage of the virtual card stored in your phone.

These applications would also allow for your card issuer to provision your card over the air onto your phone.

So far it looks interesting and convenient, but not a killer app. Even if we consider that credit card fraud due to card cloning might be more difficult with the introduction of NFC than it is today, at least for the moment.

Payments

Payments

The real beauty

It is not that you replace the plastic, it is that a whole new channel is opened, allowing Merchants and Financial Institutions to enrich the moment of the payment and use that interaction with the customer to add value, link and increase customer loyalty.

The combination of a chip for performing the physical payment transaction and an application driving the process, is the real beauty behind the NFC application to mobile payments. Now you can have coupons or virtual vouchers delivered by the merchant to your phone at any time, that you can redeem to make part of the payment. What about promotional codes delivered to your phone?. Points redemption, loyalty cards… All become now part of the ecosystem surrounding the little chip, to make the most of every time you tap your phone to pay.

Google seems to have understood pretty well the broader boundaries of what NFC is bringing to the table, with products like Wallet and Offers, which cover the whole range of services for Businesses to make the most out of the new technology. Add this to geolocation and in-door location and you can start to explore the benefits of pushing offers to the potential customers that are on the surroundings of your store, which they can instantly redeem at the moment of payment.

Adoption

It will be some years for this technology to be massively present, with a conservative prediction being that it would be present in 50% of the phones by 2014. So we seem to be giving the first steps on this thrilling technology, both on the physical availability of the technology on our devices and on the number of applications we will see coming and sophisticating not only the payments process itself, but the whole relationship between Businesses, Merchants and Customers.

Thrilling, at the very least.