Contactless Intelligence News Feed – Week 37

Last week was an interesting week for the UK mobile wallet industry. A couple of seemingly subdued announcements were made by card issuers and MNOs that could, in my opinion, cause a massive boost to wider-scale mobile payment adoption – should all the fine print be ironed out. 

First was the announcement by Barclaycard and Orange that they have incorporate Quick Tap into an Android smartphone – the Samsung Galaxy SIII. Let the Apple fans go on and on about the iPhone and its iOS, but truth be told, there are more Android-based smartphones out there today. So, having an Android version of a mobile payment application – in this case Quick Tap – makes a lot of sense. (http://wp.me/p1Jrjn-PP )

Want to know what else makes sense? ‘Project Oscar’. For those of you late to the party, here’s a quick recap: Vodafone, O2 and Everything Everywhere, applied to the European Commission to form a company that would create a mobile wallet platform and advertising sales house to reach every subscriber on their networks.

The project was designed to pitch telecoms groups against the likes of Google, Apple and Facebook, with all of them hoping to use “data mining” – amassing detailed information on the finances, consumption habits, location and demographics of customers – to create new forms of highly targeted advertising and services. “If approved, the joint venture will benefit UK plc as a whole,” the partners said in a statement. “It will promote competition by bringing together the necessary scale to offer a credible alternative to the established online payments and advertising platforms offered by large US-based internet players.”

Customers would be able to store debit and credit card details on their phones and pay for goods or transport either online via their mobile or by using the NFC handset with an NFC POS reader. Customers could also receive coupons from advertisers, sent to their phones and redeemed in shops and venues, in exchange for sharing personal information. The joint venture was codenamed ‘Project Oscar’ and announced last summer but until now had stalled in negotiations between the partners and the EC. If Project Oscar got the ‘go-ahead’ it would be the first of its kind in Europe. (http://wp.me/p1Jrjn-PU)

Well guess what? It got approved last week – unofficially. The actual official announcement will be made on the 19th September. As you can imagine, the partners are very happy. A statement, issued on behalf of the partners read, “Everything Everywhere, Telefonica UK (O2) and Vodafone UK welcome today’s news from the European Commission that their mobile commerce joint venture (“JV”) has received unconditional clearance. At the heart of the JV is a desire to bring to the UK an easy and effective solution for businesses to create and for consumers to enjoy mobile marketing and wallet services. With EC clearance received, the job of getting the JV up and running as quickly as possible can begin, starting with the hiring of the necessary people and the creation of the new company.”

There were, of course a few dissenting voices. Critics such as Hutchison Whampoa’s Three, the smallest telecoms provider in the UK, said the proposed mobile wallet would give the three partners a monopoly in mobile push advertising and mobile payments. However, rumours surfaced last thursday that despite their initial concerns, Three have actually applied to become part of Project Oscar. I cannot get anyone to go on record concerning this news (especially as all partner are keeping very quiet until the 19th September) but once it happens, no doubt we will hear more.

Personally, I am very excited about this move. I believe that the real key to mobile wallet adoption will rely upon in the inclusion of as many brands within offers and a unified push through MNOs and interested parties. Project Oscar may well be the tipping point for mobile wallet mass adoption in the UK over the next few years as more phone appear with NFC-based capabilities. Peter Ayliffe, CEO of Visa Europe appears to be agreeing (http://bit.ly/Os97T2), “By 2020, more than 50% of our transactions are going to be on mobile phones.” He continues, “For 50 years we’ve had the piece of plastic. OK, it’s developed, it’s been more secure, we’ve added features to it and everything else, but for 50 years I’ve carried a piece of plastic around. Now, suddenly, I’ve realised that in the future, I don’t have to have that piece of plastic, it’s on this wonderful smartphone. So radically that changes your thinking. The consumer is being very careful about what they’re spending nowadays, but what’s happening, is the consumer is moving away from inefficient forms of payment, such as cheque and cash, to the much more convenient and efficient ways of paying.” All this has convinced him that in the next 10 years,  contactless payments will overtake the more conventional methods.

I said that NFC-based capabilities are appearing on more phones but not all phone manufacturers are focusing on the mobile wallet aspect. Last week, Sony released their new range of Xperia™ smartphones, along with the first Xperia Tablet from Sony Corporation at the consumer electronics show IFA in Berlin. Featuring in the upcoming James Bond cinema release ‘Skyfall’, Xperia T is their new global flagship model, providing Sony’s best HD smartphone screen, camera and easy ‘One-touch’ functions enabled by – drumroll – NFC. Sony started their campaign with the NFC-based music sharing in a range of TV spots last Friday (http://wp.me/p1Jrjn-Q2), turning music into a key to NFC education.

Spotify has also announced that their app for Android has been updated, complete with new NFC support for phones running Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich. The announcement on the Spotify blog specifies that app users look for the option under the “Audio Effects” menu in the settings menu. The NFC feature will allow Spotify users to share music with other phones that have the same feature. It is unknown exactly what music the app will allow users to share. Spotify has subscription options that allow users to stream music of their choice. It seems unlikely that such music can be shared through the app, though it should at least allow users to share locally-stored music. (http://bit.ly/QbFR7N)

Nokia also released their Lumia 920 and Lumia 820 Windows OS based smartphones at a press conference in New York last week. Yet, despite trying to learn from what other handset manufacturers are doing, Nokia have decided to focus on their Windows OS and the on-board camera (12 megapixel). During the press conference, Nokia mentioned features such as NFC and wireless charging almost in passing according to AFP, who went on to claim the strategy to push the camera features of the new smart-phones as being a “foolish strategy considering Nokia’s tendency to focus on camera features hasn’t helped it make any serious ground on Apple and Android”. Is it any wonder that Nokia is quickly becoming bottom of the class when it comes to handset strategy? Still, at least they may have RIM for company.

And that neatly brings us to Apple. Apparently they have some sort of announcement this week. Don’t really know more than that. I mean, it’s not like the news industry and twitter sphere is ablaze with speculation, mis-information and every variety of Apple fanboy from 15 to 65, working themselves up into some kind of adolescent hormonal frenzy, is it? We will remain cool when in front of our readers and go into a private little tizzy come the 12th September.

But more on that next week.
Regards,

Steve Atkins

This week on C-ITV

Payments & m-Commerce

NFC & Mobile

Transportation, Ticketing & Loyalty

Other News & Opinion Articles

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Author:Steve Atkins

As well as the head of the Krowne Communications Group, Steve Atkins is also the Editor in Chief of Contactless Intelligence – covering contactless, NFC, mobile and cloud-based technologies. Even with over twenty five years of experience in the high tech industry, he is still fascinated with all kinds of technology and the impact it has upon end users. He is currently based in Berlin, Germany.

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