Towards an OS/device-based mobile wallet
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27 February 2015Zilvinas Bareisis
Over a year ago, we published a 2014 edition of our annual Top Retail Payment Trends Report (2015 edition is here), in which we distinguished between app-based wallets - majority of mobile payments solutions in the market at that point - and device-based wallets. We suggested that payments would become ever tighter integrated into the device and the operating system (OS) and that we will see the emergence of device-based wallets, "which store securely on the phone a token associated with payment credentials, which can be discovered and summoned as needed by any app or a site reached via mobile browser." Then Apple Pay came along and demonstrated to everyone the beauty of a payments solution tightly integrated into the OS and the device itself. There is no separate wallet app; customers can configure the solution via the Settings page and store their cards in Passbook. And the token of the credentials can be summoned for an in-store or an in-app transaction. Apply Pay raised the stakes for everyone in mobile payments. The challenge for Google is that the Android ecosystem is nowhere near as tightly controlled as Apple's. Yet, in the last couple of weeks, we've seen a few interesting moves that indicate steps towards OS and device-based wallets in the Android ecosystem. First, Samsung, the leading Android device manufacturer acquired LoopPay, which uses Magnetic Secure Transmission (MST) technology to enable mobile payments at the existing POS devices. Then, Google announced it was buying Softcard's technology. Finally, the news just emerged that Google would be launching Android Pay at its Google I/O conference in May. LoopPay's wallet today requires additional hardware, such as phone cases or fobs. I am convinced that Samsung will seek to get away from that and would integrate the technology into its devices. The big question is - why continue to invest into "mag-stripe technology," and isn't it a step backwards? It certainly feels that way, although I don't think it indicates Samsung's shift away from NFC; my view is that this is a pragmatic move recognising that even with EMV migration underway, the US will continue to accept magstripe-like transactions for the foreseeable future. After all, Visa has also invested in LoopPay back in the middle of last year. The big question with Google's purchase of Softcard's IP is whether Google would go back to SIM-based secure element, now that the mobile operators would finally play ball. My guess is that it won't. HCE gives everyone more flexibility, and leverages the investments the issuers and networks have been making into tokenisation. Visa just announced yesterday that it has been partnering with FIs around the world to enable HCE-based digital services. HCE is also what would enable Android Pay, which would allow third parties to build in payments features into their apps, either for in-app or in-store purchases. Instead of going back to SIM-based SE, I suspect Google will make use of Softcard's loyalty functionality and will gain access to the MNO distribution networks. According to the announcement, Google Wallet will come pre-loaded on the handsets sold by the operators, which I assume will get paid a distribution fee. As various solutions get tighter integrated into device hardware and operating system, it will be interesting to watch how they would co-exist. Could the latest Samsung Galaxy device support a PayPal app with biometric authentication, LoopPay, Google Wallet and Android Pay without at least confusing the customer? Or are the two giants in the Android ecosystem on the collision path here? Clearly, there is no respite from interesting developments in mobile payments. I am sure we'll see another wave of interesting announcements next week at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona. I had the privilege to serve as a judge for GSMA Global Mobile Awards, and I am certainly looking forward to the ceremony and the rest of the Congress. I'll make sure to blog my impressions when I am back. In the meantime, drop me a note if you would like to meet in Barcelona next week.