Mobile payments and near-field communications are getting a lot of attention. It’s a confusing sector, and GigaOm provides a great service by outlining the attributes of each.
The post — the chart icon has to be clicked on to open it — looks at six competitors: Google Wallet, Isis, Pay with Square, PayPal, Starbucks and LevelUp. Five of these — with Starbucks, obviously, as the exception — are aimed at various segments of the general business landscape. Isis, the chart points out, has yet to launch. The chart has five categories. It describes how each works, the payment options, each project’s investors and partners and the GigaOm take. This is a confusing area, and the chart is very helpful.
The thread through most of the coverage of mobile payments during the past few years focused on the use of near-field communications (NFC), a short-range wireless technology that is being harnessed by smartphone makers for a number of tasks. Ironically, while the most heralded is mobile payments, the difficulties of getting the rest of the infrastructure up and running means that the initial uses of NFC will be for more mundane purposes. Regardless, public perception links NFC and mobile payments.
One of the other issues that has run in the background of the NFC/mobile payments story is the position of Apple. It was noted by observers that the absence of NFC on the new iPhone is a big deal and, to proponents, quite a disappointment.
It is unclear whether Apple is biding its time or just doesn’t believe in the technology. One deal announced half a world away suggests that Apple indeed is moving toward NFC and mobile payments. Australian startup Microlatch reportedly has signed a deal with Apple for use of its technology, which features biometric fingerprint scanning technology capable of securing NFC. That, the insiders say, is why Apple made the deal.
Much of the most interesting NFC- and mobile payment-related news comes from outside the United States. Another example — also from Down Under — is the launch this week by ANZ of an $1.5 billion technology project. Reports say that NFC is one part of the project.
In the UK, RBS and NatWest — a couple of banks — teamed with Visa Europe to provide NFC-enabled protective covers to iPhone 4 and 4S smartphones. The system is moving toward a trial. The system, called TouchPay, appears similar to Samsung TecTiles, which perform user-programmable functions. Much of what they are used for tends to be mundane. But, taken together, they can make life easier — and set the stage for the bigger features, such as mobile payments, that are coming.
Near-field communications is here. It will gradually become more common as mobile payment services grow and companies find more creative uses for the platform. Indeed, it is likely that 2013 will be a big year for the technology.