This image was lost some time after publication, but you can still view it here. Hey, Your Wallet's Ringing
By Carlo Longino
Device convergence in the mobile world typically means something like shoehorning an MP3 player into a handset (sometimes with
hilarious consequences). But plenty of companies have have designs on cramming your wallet into your cellphone, too. When Motorola says 100 songs, they mean it. It turns out that ROKR prevents you from adding more… Read more Read more
Wireless payment systems aren't all that new. The most well-known example in the US is ExxonMobil's Speedpass, which uses a little plastic cylinder on a keychain — though it's also been
built into some Timex watches. The cylinder holds a tiny radio transceiver, which a user waves in front of a gas pump or reader at a cash register; and the system then bills the purchase to an associated credit card. The system is simple and easy to use, but its biggest drawback is that it can only be used at ExxonMobil gas stations. If you pull into an Amoco, you re stuck with whipping out the old-fashioned Visa or Amex. One watch you really don't want to lose: new line of Timex watches with built-in miniaturized… Read more Read more
Speedpass, then, acts as little more than a credit card replacement at one chain of gas stations. It may be a marginally useful product, but its limitations illustrate two characteristics mobile payment systems must have to really succeed: high utility and wide usability.
In other words, they ve got to do more than just replace your credit card, and they should be accepted by more than just a handful of merchants.They must be useful, both as payment replacements, but with other applications, and they must be accepted at a wide number of places. That's part of the problem with Speedpass and other similar programs. While it's helpful for ExxonMobil customers, imagine carrying a separate key fob for each brand of gas station, convenience store and supermarket—your keys would be so cumbersome, they d require their own backpack. (Of course, some retailers view the payment systems as lock-in mechanisms, an attempt to get people to shop at their stores exclusively.)
Mobile payment systems are proliferating, but it's still the early days, and (in the US, at least) a viable one is yet to emerge. One attempt,
MobileLime, launched this summer, taking a slightly low-tech approach: when users go to pay at a merchant that accepts it (currently about 45 places in Boston), the user calls an 1-800 number and enter the business ID number and a PIN. They then give the merchant the last 4 digits of their phone number which is entered into the system along with the price; the money is then deducted from a prepaid account, or billed to a credit card, which then deducts it from a prepaid account or bills it to a credit card. Not particularly convenient when compared to something you just wave in front of a reader that handles the rest.