Thursday, August 13, 2009

Apple of the smart card industry

In the early part of the decade, different categories of mobile devices emerged. These include, internet device, gaming device, music player, phone, camera, digital reader... There was a lot of debate then about the right direction to proceed. Can a single multi-purpose device adequately meet the diverse and specialized requirements of a category or a specialized device that does one thing well the way to go? Would a consumer prefer to carry a single device or multiple devices that does each thing well?

Companies in the CE space, such as Sony, went on to address this need by delivering a device for each of these categories. Sony has a gaming device (PSP), phone, music player (Walkman), camera (Cyber Shot), eBook Reader...

As each category matured, the requirements for each category stabilized enabling aggregating these categories into one device. iPhone is the current leader of a device that has managed to be many things to many people. Apple's success, though difficult to emulate, has been built on genius(!), vertical integration, active value-add ecosystem and a large group of vocal evangelists.

Samsung, Nintendo and Sony are quickly following suite to come up with their own variants.

Can Apple's success in converging CE devices be repeated in the smart card industry?

Over the years, multi-app multi-party smart cards have been discussed and promoted by the industry. For a variety of reasons, this model has not taken off. Each of us carry multiple smart cards in our wallets/purses. Not very different from a world where we carried multiple CE devices, that is, until Apple came along.

If so:
  • Who is the Apple in the smart cards industry to pull this off? Is it fair to say, similar to the Apple experience, a telco will not be able to pull this off? Would this be somebody outside the industry?
  • What is that critical out-of-the-box offering/configuration that will enable success this time around? Many have argued that payments should not be the first service as this requires to heavy a lift. Loyalty, though alluring, has been disappointing to-date. Transit has proven itself to be a killer-app in enabling behavioral change, but has seen limited success in anchoring a multi-tenancy service.
  • Is Barclays One Pulse card the seed of the new world? Would a One Pulse in the mobile be the beginnings of the new world?
  • Will we a successful model emerge from a new geo, such as, Turkey?
I am consciously not looking at the Far East market to provide the template which can be successfully replicated elsewhere (at the risk of being proved wrong). My interest is in understanding success factors affecting multi-tenancy smart cards in open / large markets. Successes till-date have been in areas where a large player, with a dominant position, has been able to pull the entire market along. In the US and Western Europe, a more collaborative approach might be necessary.

Look forward to hearing from you.

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