Thursday, July 14, 2011

We're Going Mobile


I took a break from the hypnotic pull of Google+ yesterday and met real live humans in person. I know this is pretty old school, but once in a while you have to step away from the keyboard.

In the morning, I tried something new at Starbucks. Oh, I've had a vanilla latte and mocha frappuccinos before but this was the first time I used my smart phone to pay for it. The Starbucks application on my HTC EVO really came in handy as I emerged from the NYC subway. I had a little less than an hour to kill before my first meeting and the app makes it easy to find the nearest Starbucks location. It knows where you are and displays nearby locations on a map. Of course we all know in Manhattan you cannot go six blocks in any direction and without finding a Starbucks. Indeed, one was just a couple of blocks north.

Once inside I waited in line, placed my order and used the payment function on my phone. At the push of a soft button, my phone displays a bar code which is scanned and transfers the exact amount from my account to the register. Simple, safe and convenient. No fumbling with my wallet, counting bills or checking change, or swiping cards. Your phone, usually in your hand anyway, can just be held out, scanned and you are done.

I have been having this same experience for some time at the airport. Automated systems advise and allow you to check in the day before your flight. You can even print a boarding pass at home, speeding the process of getting to the gate (which we all know is a lot more complex these days.) But some airlines permit you to load your boarding pass to your smartphone. Displaying it and holding the phone to the special readers in the security line is fast and avoids the typical paper shuffle.

In other parts of the world, people have been transacting using smartphones for some time. New technologies are being introduced including NFC, a technology that allows smartphones to communicate wirelessly with POS terminals. Since it is likely to take several years for NFC to be included and present in enough phones, we will see methods like the bar code scanner Starbucks uses. A new and innovative approach uses sound. Your phone can produce tones that a register can hear and process in a similar fashion.

We have become an mobile device oriented society, and we can expect more applications will appear and more business will be transacted in this way. Personally, I can't wait. Let's get with it Dunkin. Why do I still have to use a credit card in your store?

Captain Joe

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