Thursday, July 30, 2009

Best Buy suspends NFC reader deployment

A recent issue of RFID Journal discussed contactless payment terminal deployments in North America. The article discussed Best Buy suspending its national deployment of contactless terminal over its disagreement with Visa on how debit cards were processed.

To help understand the issue, let me elaborate with an example. You buy a LCD TV for $500 at Best Buy and choose to pay with your debit card. If you used your magstripe debit card, you would swipe the card, enter your PIN and head home to enjoy your TV. Best Buy would pay about $1 as fees for accepting the card.

Let's look at the scenario where Best Buy has deployed a contactless reader and you whip out your fancy contactless debit card to pay for the LCD TV. You authorize $500 to be debited from your account by providing your PIN and you leave happy. Best Buy would pay about $11 as fees, an extra 1000% for the mistake of deploying contactless readers.

Now you know why Best Buy pulled out these readers. The question is, why did they not pull the readers out earlier. Last I heard, their losses were in 7 digits due to the way contactless PIN Debit transactions were processed by Visa Interlink.

It might be worthwhile to discuss another dimension of deployment of contactless readers here. Visa and MasterCard have positioned contactless payments as an option when speed and convenience are of the essence [for transactions less than $25]. You are at a Coffee Shop. You 'wave' your card to pay the $3 for your caffeine fix and run. No need to sign, no PIN necessary, no receipt. Makes sense. However, for users to get used to waving their cards at readers, these readers need to every where. Otherwise, its one more decision point (and aggravation) for the user to figure out whether they swipe, wave or insert their card. Consequently, Best Buy, Home Depot and other retailers deploying contactless readers are getting us to the critical mass where you can 'wave' whereever we pay. Interchange rules that are currently geared towards speed and convenience need to modified to accommodate ubiquity as well. One hopes that this change will come soon so that Best Buy can go back to having nationwide deployment of contactless readers. I have to say that I enjoyed waving my card at Best Buy readers. Sigh!

[Updated 07Jan2010]: Wanted to inform readers that Best Buys has stopped accepting Visa contactless cards (source).

What do you think?

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

JP Morgan's analysis of PayPal - A must read

I came across a very good analysis of PayPal by JP Morgan (link). The PayPal blog also talks about it. If you are interested in payments systems, this is a must read.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

China overtakes the US in the Year of the Rabbit?

We recently crossed an interesting technology adoption milestone (Yahoo tech news). China has more internet users than the US population. China have over 338 million PC users. I thought that this would be an opportunity to aggregate related statistics about China. With the PC subsidy for rural China (Source: Gartner) expected to increase PC adoption, would China surpass the US in annual PC sales in 2011 (Year of the Rabbit)? A corollary to this question: If China does pass the US in PC sales, does this mean anything? China has passed the US in mobile phone sales, and the world continues to turn...

I will continue to updated the stats I collect. If you have related stats that you would like to see here, please send them to me and I will include it.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Platform is the future. What is the platform, though?

Google recently announced that they would launch Chrome, the OS. Then followed analysis of whether this was the right thing for GOOG to do or not (related post from thecatalystcode). It might be helpful to take a step back to see the undercurrents behind GOOG's decision.

This post attempts to shed light on the strategies being pursued by Google, Apple, Nokia and Microsoft to subsume as much value for the ecosystem.

Thin is in: Google is focusing on getting the market to go thin, use the cloud and cloud-based resources. In so doing, it can use its ad-support freemium business model to skew the advantage in its favor. It gets the end-users hooked on free and thin, by being the purveyor of thick. The thickest client that exists on most of our machines is the browser. Therefore, Chrome, the Browser.

These days, browsers have subsumed so much of the value of the software layer, it is getting easier to commoditize the OS. However, for the browser to be in charge of its own destiny, having control of the OS is desirable. So we have Android and Chrome the OS.

Google in charge of the browser and OS, in an ad-supported freemium world, takes in most of the value and chokes off oxygen (aka revenues) from most everybody else. In such a world, it is a slow bleed to lower ASPs and commoditization. Ask anybody in the value chain who sits below or above Google, and they will attest to this.

App Store is the platform / Thick is it: Apple's strategy is to enable the app developers to leverage investments in cutting-edge hardware, design and usability. Innovation by the third-party developers / value-added service providers helps increase the relevance of iPhone to the end-users. In so doing, Apple can command a larger ASP, have a direct channel with end-users and commoditize the MNO (e.g., AT&T). Additionally, thick client is part of Apple's platform strategy as iPhone native apps help keep the iPhone differentiation front and center in the minds of end users. A corollary to the above strategy of Apple: Hardware is not a commodity. Use the platform to extract premium for the hardware. Apple's vertical integration of the stack comes in handy, as well.

Nokia: They have as good a vertical story as any in the mobile space. They control the hardware (Nokia the OEM), the OS (Symbian), Browser (based on open source WebKit)... They have an App store as well (Ovi). In many parts of the world, Nokia has a direct market presence (unlike the US, where the telco offers the phones to consumers). However, they find themselves in unfamiliar territory. Downloadable apps and value-added services was the domain of their partner, the MNO. Though Nokia has a vibrant 3rd party developer community (Forum Nokia), consumers getting to a mobile app was largely dictated by the MNO's on-deck decision. Though it was possible for side-loading an app and folks like Handango have been active in the 3rd party mobile apps marketplace, loading mobile apps after you got the phone was an exception. Please note that this behavior has very little to do with SMS, 2G, 3G..., or with the purchasing capacity.

Why is the App download problem important to Nokia? Up until the iPhone came along, all of us were happy with our phones the way they were. In a post-iPhone world, the local relevance and the global connection seems diminished if the phone does not have an easy way to get apps and utilities, however trivial they may be.

What is Microsoft's strategy?. As they do not have hardware, the Apple App strategy has limited value for MSFT. As App stores have become a business imperative, MSFT has its version. The ad-supported freemium model is one which they have been trying to crack for a while now. They have the cash flow to ensure they have runway space while they attempt to take off. For sure they are the incumbent, even in a Google's Thin is In strategy. Will Bing get them down this path is a billion dollar question. MSFT's strategy on mobile devices seem to be weak and their PC story is flailing. Only time will tell, whether MSFT's irons in the fire will result in anything meaningful to change their trajectory and destiny.

Do you think that hardware can be commoditized, and that platform is the key to migrating value?

Inserted 26th July 2009: I took a related survey recently (please let me know the name of the site as I do not recall the name) which complements this post:

What is the future of mobile?
Google is right Web apps will win against native 22%
Google is wrong App Stores will still be big 39%
Apple will win Native apps will trump web apps 20%
I dont care : 17%

Total Votes: 4213

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Influencer or the King

It is a paradigm change. It's hype with little relevance. It's the future. It's US-centric obsolete technology that the rest of the world has gone past...

The above are some of the comments associated with the iPhone. Which of the above are true? All of them? None of them?

Does the iPhone represent a minority viewpoint (US / IT press) or is it a trend of things to come?

iPhone has been a game-changer with innovations including:
  • Native applications that are custom built to take advantage of the platform capabilities (Gartenberg's comments, analyst with Interpret)
  • Smartphone platform (App store and iPhone SDK) being an integral enabler of the smartphone value
  • Device that lends itself into app download and mobile browsing. Though iPhone has about 10% of the smartphone marketshare, it commands a disproportionate 32% of mobile internet market share (Source: Admob). Nokia has 40% market share of mobile devices and a similar share of the mobile internet market.
  • Did Apple open the pandora's box with their App Store. Though we've had 1.5 billion downloads to-date, Juniper predicts that the industry would reach an annual 20 billion app downloads per year by 2014! (Source: Juniper Research and Mobile Innovation)
On the other hand, iPhone is a footnote in many international markets for some of these reasons:
  • Would an audience used to cutting-edge hardware, such as, 12 Megapixel camera, settle for the 3 Megapixels that iPhone offers?
  • Would the global market place used to variety of smart phones to select from settle for a model-of-the-year offering from iPhone?
  • Can the tail wag the dog? Can US consumers with only 8% of smart phone market share or iPhone with 10% global market share challenge the market leader Nokia
Apple and iPhone are today's shiny toys. The question is whether they will continue to change the nature of the smart phone market place while lingering in the back, or will they mount an attack and displace the leader Nokia?

What are your thoughts?