Commentary

Mobile Payments, NFC & Plain Old Credit Cards

At a mall over the weekend, I happened by a couple of Coke machines that offered multiple payment methods.

After selecting a drink on the machine’s touch screen, you could pay by a number of ways, including cash, credit card, Apple Pay or Softcard.

I watched as several people came to the machine, selected a drink, swiped their credit card and out came the drink.

This was in the context of the recent rumor that Google is considering purchasing once-known-as-Isis mobile payment company Softcard, the joint venture of Verizon, AT&T and T-Mobile.

Only a week ago, Softcard announced it was laying off 60 employees, followed several days later by a report in TechCrunch that said Google was looking at purchasing the payment company for somewhere under $100 million.

Softcard was introduced a few years ago with great fanfare.

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I remember the impressive demo at SXSW in Austin, one of the two test markets, where attendees lined up to see the magic of touching a vending machine with a phone to see a product come out.

It was early NFC (near filed communications) payment technology at work.

During those early years, Apple soundly ignored NFC, leaving Softcard to work only with Android-NFC phones, still a relatively large market.

That was a time when some in the industry lamented that mobile payments was one of the worst things that ever happened to NFC, which some also saw as an acronym for Not For Commerce.

If Google does acquire Softcard, it could provide a significant boost to Google Wallet, one of the early mobile payment systems that worked nicely until the carriers thought it to be not so nice a fit with their services.

And then there is the Merchant Exchange venture of the mega retailers whose payment system is expected to hit the market this year. In that payment method, a code on a mobile screen is used to pay by waving the phone in front of a terminal.

The advantage of that method is that loyalty programs and cards, coupons and payments can be seamlessly integrated.

It has taken some time, but more consumers are learning how to tap to pay.

Meanwhile, like the people buying soft drinks at the mall, the masses of consumers are quite comfortable with the ease of swiping a card.

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