There’s a great deal of debate in the Financial Services community at the moment about the potential impact of NFC or Near-Field Communication technology within mobile phones and how it will effect the payments landscape. The financial services players are generally scratching their heads and although they admit that NFC phones like the iPhone 5, the Nexus S and others are interesting – they don’t see the need for rapid response. After all, the lack of POS (point-of-sale) infrastructure that supports NFC is in itself a reason why a sense of urgency is not necessary. There’s plenty of time to worry about that later. Right?
There’s an App for that…
In July of 2007 Apple launched the iPhone (what we call the iPhone 2G generally today). Since that time I’ve owned each successive generation of iPhone and I now also have an iPad. So what’s the big deal?
The most impressive thing about the iPhone is not necessarily multi-touch, retina display, ease of use, or core functionality, but is unquestionably the iTunes platform that brought us “Apps”. Prior to the launch of the iPhone, we’d never even heard of Apps, and yet today, just 4 years later, here are the stats on Apps:
- 350,000 Apps for Apple and close to 200,000 for Android
- 10Billion downloads for Apple, 2.5Billion for Android Marketplace
- 15.1Bn in Apps Revenue expected for 2011
- Daily downloads 22million per day – Apple
- New app submissions/day – 587 (100 games/488 non-games)
- No of Active publishers/developers – 72,000 on the US store
- 160m iTunes account holders (that’s 160m credit cards on file)
So from it’s humble start iTunes was always more than just a place to come and download music or TV episodes, it became the core delivery platform for a whole new category of software and user experiences. At 10:26 AM GMT on Saturday, January 22, 2011, the 10 billionth app was downloaded from Apple App Store.
Now, before iTunes, the iPhone and “Apps” there had still been software – both for PC screens and for phones. Prior to the so-called ‘JesusPhone’, there were Java “Apps”, games and so-forth you could buy and download for your phone, but these certainly didn’t become ubiquitous, primarily because the usability wasn’t good enough and there wasn’t a marketplace that distributed these Apps.
So here we are, just a few years later and there’s probably not a single person in the US, UK, Australia, Germany or France who doesn’t know what an “App” is. Worldwide mobile application store revenue is projected to triple to more than $15.1 billion this year and reach $58 billion in three years, according to Gartner Inc. That revenue was $0 in 2007.
And yet, there are bankers out there that still persist in the belief that mobile payments via your iPhone will take years to ‘take off’. In a debate on this via Twitter over the weekend one of the typical quotes was “I can see it, just not for some time…”
Why the App is a great paradigm for NFC
The dominant position from the card issuers and traditional too-big-to-fail banks is that there is already an existing point-of-sale infrastructure in place in the USA, for example, that will take years to replace with NFC or contactless capable terminals. This naturally limits the adoption of contactless payments technology because even though someone has a contactless credit card or a phone enabled with contactless technology, it still doesn’t mean that they can pay – if a merchant can’t accept their payment then it is essentially dead before it starts.
In our Twitter debate over the weekend Rich Clow (@richclow) from Citi came up with a strong analogy likening the existing POS infrastructure to the ‘rail network’ that opened up the frontier of the US in the 1800’s. Without the ‘rails’, without contactless point-of-sale terminals, how exactly will customers make payments using their NFC phones? What’s the good of having a locomotive unless you have rails you can put it on? It’s an excellent point.
Except … prior to 2007 there were no rails for Apps. The App didn’t effectively exist, but that didn’t stop Apple from creating the rails and the locomotive as part of the iPhone ecosystem at the time of their launch. Right now today Apple and Google are working on alternative payment schemes that will circumvent the traditional visa/mastercard POS systems and networks to enable both P2P payments and commercial transactions with merchants and retailers via phones. There may be some hook into the traditional payment networks behind the scenes, but all you’ll need to pay is an NFC phone and wireless network access.
How quickly will payments from one phone to another become ubiquitous? Answer: How long did it take Apps to become ubiquitous?
Put it this way – those out there that think this will take another 3 to 5 years to honestly compete with plastic mag stripe or chip and pin POS terminals, need to change their terms of reference. Apple and Google won’t wait for the rails. They’re going to jump straight to supersonic transport and the banks will still be waiting around for the train to stop at their station. Meanwhile, we’ll be choosing new payment networks as the paradigm for the next generation of commerce interactions.
Goodbye checks, goodbye plastic! If you’re a banker or card issuer, the sonic boom is coming your way…