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Apple’s digital payments system: Amex, Visa & MasterCard

This story is flying around the marketplace at the moment (and, incidentally, getting quite a lot of traditional banks in a bit of a panic):

Hot on the heels of a report that Apple has inked a deal with American Express, a second report has stated that the company has also signed deals with Visa and MasterCard.

via Apple’s secret iPhone 6 digital payment system said to also include Visa & MasterCard.

My view is: Bring it on. Bring it flipping on.

For a long, long time the concept of the iPhone becoming central to a user’s financial world has been muted. To a large extent, the device already is central. Apple — by virtue of their App Store — has placed itself at the centre of the Universe.

Hitherto, Apple has enabled others to benefit — witness, for example, the raft of bank, building society and credit card providers who all offer market leading services via iPhone. The latest American Express Passbooky-cum-app integration is just gorgeous, for example.

But the iPhone itself? Just a dumb terminal in the world of payments. Today.

Tomorrow, though? It could get rather exciting, especially if there’s integration into the existing contactless/NFC standards.

However, I wouldn’t be surprised if Apple did it’s own thing. The market will simply gravitate toward whatever they do, such is the power and influence of the brand. Don’t forget that most C-Level executives in Corporate America are typically wielding an iPhone, iPad or both. So getting the business case approved (which is what it all comes down to) shouldn’t be too complicated.

The issue will be if Apple does the usual shit. That is: A semi half-baked gorgeous concept that is missing key points or integrations, either because it hasn’t been built, because Apple doesn’t understand it or for naked commercial gain.

There is a temptation to assume Cupertino is the font of all wisdom. It’s not. The abject secrecy the company works with makes it really difficult for real world testing. Do you remember the iPhone-left-in-a-bar saga a few years ago? That was when a pre-release iPhone disguised as an older version was let outside the compound so that an Apple worker could test the device in real world conditions.

Failures have been high. We just don’t ever, ever pay attention to them. Perhaps the best example was bumpergate. The “You’re holding it wrong,” saga. Grip your iPhone 4S (was it? I can’t remember now) and the signal will visibly wilt. No one at Apple seemed to have tested the device in the real world without a ‘bumper’ or a case. Obviously. Because the devices were disguised in cases. Steve Jobs wove his magic and told us we were wrong in a special edition keynote. And then offered everyone a free ‘bumper’. Very well played. Everyone smiled and carried on.

I hope that the team at Apple has arrived to dominate the mobile payments market. I hope they will absolutely blow away the existing banks and credit card companies. That will force the kind of innovation and development at pace that the rest of the market sorely needs to adopt.

The first step is to integrate though.

As an American Express customer accustomed to brilliant service and reasonably swift innovation, I will be delighted if I can ‘do advanced things’ with my iPhone and Amex account. Similarly with Visa and MasterCard although I won’t be surprised if the various financial institutions I use don’t ‘sign up’ right-away.

We’ll see. Bring it on. I hope we have some exciting innovation announcements at the keynote next week.

One final comment: The operators — dead and buried. That’s it. The moment Apple announces something credible with mobile payments (and it does need to be credible) I think we can all relax that the ‘game’ (such as it was) with operators is over. Years ago, I used to write about the operators panicking about Apple doing something to unseat them or their position. We’re almost done now. Dumb data pipes, for the most part.


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