Apple’s ‘contactless’ payment system, Apple Pay, has signalled the arrival of payments to the long list of services we already entrust to our smart mobile devices.
Apple Pay brings mobile payment to the mainstream, along with Google Wallet (which was launched before Apple Pay) and Samsung’s yet-to-launch Android alternative.
All of these systems share a common technology – Near Field Communications or NFC – with a chip inside a smart device (phone, tablet or watch) that communicates wirelessly with a similar chip at the point of sale (be it a teller, ATM, retail store, or restaurant). Your payment details, securely linked to your smart device, are simply transferred to the payment system with little more than a touch or swipe of your device.
However, they have something else even more important in common – none of them are available in South Africa.
This glaring oversight (to us anyway) may not necessarily be a bad thing. It gives smart developers and companies looking to gain a competitive edge in the market a clear window of opportunity to win customers over with their own payment solutions, at least until the big boys are ready to play.
There are already a handful of established mobile payment systems in the local market. The likes of SnapScan, FlickPay and Zapper all claim to offer effortless, contactless mobile payment via your smartphone or tablet, and each have their own established and growing customer base.
The hamstring of these locally available systems, however, is their technology. Rather than NFC, all three systems use Quick Response (QR) codes – a form of barcode – to send information to a compatible smart device. They work presenting a QR code on a bill or a product, which is then ‘scanned’ by the QR app on the payer’s device using the device’s camera. The payment information in the QR code is then automatically deducted off the payer’s account, which is linked to the QR app.
While these systems are seemingly smart and efficient, they are notably more cumbersome than the newer NFC systems. QR is less flexible than NFC, and while some apps give payers some degree of flexibility – like splitting a bill at a restaurant for example – QR codes are generally fixed, and have to be regenerated if any of the information they hold needs to be changed.
Herein lies the opportunity for smart South African developers looking to leapfrog the technology we already have and steal a march on the technology that’s yet to come. Since NFC chips are already standard in the newer smart devices we use, we have the hardware in place to support the software we’re free to develop.
But a word of caution: technology aside, find a credible partner before setting out your mobile payment development plans. If there’s one thing customers won’t buy it’s an app – however smart or easy – without the backing of a reputable name brand, be it a bank or large retailer. Credibility buys you trust, and without trust, you can’t win customers.
Apple, Google and Samsung have that in spades. But they’re not here, yet.