Could The BlackBerry Save Mobile Payments? Maybe It’s The Only Thing That Can

Written by Frank Hayes
May 31st, 2012

Everybody is waiting for Apple in NFC mobile payments—the theory being that the iPhone’s try-anything-if-it’s-Apple owners will embrace tap-to-pay as soon as the company endorses it. But Apple is in no hurry, and Google Wallet and ISIS aren’t exactly taking off, while PayPal prefers phone numbers and PINs. The one player desperate enough to jumpstart NFC mobile payments may be RIM.

Yes, everyone hates the last-generation E-mail king, which on Tuesday (May 29) announced an operating loss and layoffs. But earlier this month RIM also finally agreed to let carriers and banks use NFC-enabled BlackBerrys for payments in Canada—without coupons, ads or a cut for RIM.

That’s NFC-payments heresy in the U.S. It’s also part of why mobile payments have become a waiting game, and not just for Apple. All the deep-pocketed payments fat cats can afford to wait. They can pay for chains’ POS upgrades and make grand plans for squeezing revenue out of mobile payments via coupons or ads, plans that don’t have to generate income for years.

Not RIM. It’s in trouble. Its old corporate customers—the ones RIM forced to install its server software to support push E-mail—have abandoned it in droves, largely in favor of iPhones. Government agencies still use it, because of the encryption support. But RIM’s main growth market now is among young users who like its BBM messaging service (it’s sort of like texting on steroids, but with better security).

That transition is killing RIM. But, bizarre as it sounds, those new social-media-obsessed BlackBerry users might be exactly the right people to get NFC payments moving by turning mobile money into a genuine fad. (And maybe save RIM in the process. We have to take the bitter with the sweet.)

And a fad is exactly what mobile payments need to be. The technology works. Security isn’t the problem. Enough retail chains have signed up for Google Wallet and ISIS. Card brands and banks are on board. Everything is now in place except a compelling reason—or a stupid excuse—for customers to pay with an expensive phone instead of a cheap rectangle of plastic.

All the compelling reasons have failed to drive mobile payments. But a stupid excuse, such as being the latest fad among young consumers? Yeah, that might work.

That’s why everyone has been waiting for Apple. Apple could make NFC payments a fad. But Apple won’t. At this point, it looks unlikely that Apple’s next iPhone announcement will include mobile payments. Apple goes where customers are. Right now, that’s not mobile payments.

But RIM? It’s desperate, and it has a huge financial incentive: survival.


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