Tag Archives: mobile

mobile payments and loyalty

Communications Service Providers, mobile device vendors, and operating system vendors are all formulating their own strategies to capture the payment market. The introduction of Near Field Communications (NFC) technology broadly into mobile devices is the key enabler for users to execute payment transactions by touching devices together. These players all see an opportunity to grab a slice of the huge payments business that credit card companies now dominate. Mobile payments using NFC is potentially very disruptive to the status quo.

From a user perspective, mobile payment seems like a small improvement in convenience. Digital technology may provide improved security and fraud protection over the extremely vulnerable scheme of authenticating a credit card number on a physical card with a matching customer name, security code, expiration date, billing address, PIN, or signature. Improved security and fraud protection would be a compelling motivator for users to adopt this technology.

While users will use mobile payments to replace some of their credit card transactions, it is unlikely that credit cards will disappear any time soon. Mobile devices with NFC are still not common enough. Even the Apple iPhone 5 does not support NFC yet, although it would be extremely surprising if the next major iPhone release did not include NFC support.

Where NFC can provide an even greater convenience is to track loyalty points and rewards. Users carry around a huge stack of loyalty cards in their wallets and on their key chains today. Every vendor has their own loyalty card. It is not uncommon to carry dozens of these. We have cards for grocery stores, pharmacies, coffee shops, retailers of every kind, airlines, hotels, car rentals… the list is endless. What I would like to see is a popular app become the de facto standard in tracking loyalty points universally, so that users can finally shed themselves of all those physical loyalty cards.

A universal loyalty app makes many other side benefits possible. The most important is personalization. A patron of a restaurant can be identified when they check in with their mobile device. They will be credited points at the end of the meal. The customer’s identity can be used to retrieve their food and service preferences, so that without needing to ask the server already knows the customer’s dietary restrictions, allergies, and favorite foods and drinks. The overall experience would be improved for both the server and the customer as communications are streamlined.

A universal loyalty app can also become the means by which coupons and promotional offerings are distributed by vendors and carried by users. This would be far more convenient than carrying around paper coupons. The app can perform important functions like reminding the user to use a valuable coupon before it expires. It benefits users to redeem more savings, and it benefits vendors by promoting more business.

A universal loyalty app can also become the means by which users may track purchases (keeping a copy of every bill) and their associated warranties and protection plans. An app could easily record purchase dates and vendor information, so that users no longer need to keep paper warranty agreements in a physical filing system.

Having loyalty points, coupons, and purchases tracked by a single app will also enable other innovations, such as dynamically calculated coupon values or promotional pricing to reward users proportional to the value of their past purchases. It also enables vendors with cross-selling opportunities to target users based on recent purchasing decisions. It opens up many avenues for innovation that we cannot even think of today.

mobile devices and carriers

When I upgraded to an Android mobile device with AT&T, I signed a new two year contract with a more costly data plan. The device was discounted to zero thanks to a special promotion, but actually the full cost of the device is amortized over the life of the contract. This explains why there is a prorated termination fee for recouping that cost.

AT&T, like most carriers, preinstalls their own lineup of apps on top of the base Android operating system. They also disable features like being able to specify alternative sources for downloading apps. Many AT&T apps require a subscription with an additional monthly recurring charge. AT&T Family Map is an example. There are many disadvantages to this arrangement.

AT&T is extremely slow to upgrade their apps to newer releases of Android. In fact, they don’t even bother to do so for legacy (2yr old) hardware. This is horrible for users who cannot take advantage of the constant stream of software innovations available from Google.

The preinstalled apps cannot be uninstalled. This bloat occupies precious memory and storage that is better used for the user’s favorite apps. These undesirable apps occupy valuable resources and drain battery life.

It is understandable that a carrier would want its users to install its apps in the hopes of generating more revenue. It is a never-ending quest for carriers to avoid becoming dumb pipes, while over-the-top content and Internet services vendors become rich. Unfortunately, no matter how hard they try, carriers will never innovate fast enough to maintain a competitive advantage in these value added services, because they are too slow and too old-school. Dumb pipes are all they are good at.

On my next device, I will almost certainly reimage it with Cyanogenmod.

Integrating Automobiles with Mobile Computing

I would love to see automobile manufacturers join mobile computing device manufacturers in producing vehicles that support standardized off-the-shelf electronic devices that integrate seamlessly with the vehicle’s console, electrical system, controls, and accessory mounts. We should be able to incorporate our personal tablets, music players, and mobile devices for all of the following functions.

  • hands-free telephone calls
  • maps and turn-by-turn navigation
  • traffic, accident, and road condition warnings
  • music
  • video entertainment for passengers
  • fuel economy monitoring and optimization
  • driving behavior and safety monitoring
  • location tracking and history
  • vehicle telemetry recording (“black box”)
  • external camera monitoring
  • vehicle maintenance tracking – schedule for oil, brake fluid, transmission fluid, and power steering fluid changes

Replacing proprietary electronics with commercial off-the-shelf components would provide the following advantages.

  • User serviceability (hardware repair and replacement)
  • Electronic hardware upgrades can keep pace with rapid advances in technology innovation
  • Multi-sourcing for electronics hardware will lower costs through competition, standardization, and commoditization
  • Software applications can be installed and upgraded at will
  • It opens up a vast market for applications that work in conjunction with the vehicle and its subsystems
  • The cost of development is externalized from the vehicle manufacturer, allowing it to take advantage of the economies of scale associated with the computing and consumer electronics industry
  • And most importantly, consumers will love it. A vehicle with this capability will be of enormous appeal to the market. This would be such a revolutionary improvement that any manufacturer without this capability will be at an immediate and insurmountable disadvantage in terms of desirability.

Limitless possibilities open up, when the automobile’s subsystems are integrated with mobile computing devices that have high speed network connectivity (e.g., HSPA, LTE) and user installed software applications. I am sure that developers would invent a huge range of applications to take advantage of a platform that is such an important element of people’s lives. In many occupations, mobile computing is done while parked in a vehicle. Such a platform could greatly improve the ergonomics for this mobile work force. With such a platform, I bet it would not take long, before an application appears to enable vehicles in close proximity to collaborate to assist drivers in avoiding accidents. A platform with applications such as this would no doubt open up a market for integrating additional components, such as external cameras, sensors, and signaling mechanisms. The possibilities are endless.