When customers or investors once asked us why we never entered the NFC payment space we respectfully replied with “if Google can’t make money in mobile payments, we certainly can’t.” This often ended that line of questioning quite painlessly.
Although Google Wallet has some adoption, it never gained the widespread usage Google had hoped. As a symbolic white flag, Host Card Emulation (HCE) was introduced in Android KitKat in 2013 allowing third party developers to create similar apps. This was Google signaling that it no longer had designs on dominating mobile payments and was happy to enable other mobile wallet services with its new HCE feature. Although Google has not disclosed the dollar amount sunk into it, the payment platform attempted to further refine the ad giant’s insight into users. By augmenting its existing profile of a user with real world and online purchasing data Google hoped to earn a return on the investment through deeper consumer insight. This model, though innovative, proved infeasible with the low adoption levels.
Softcard (a.k.a. ISIS), the more than $100 million joint venture of AT&T, Verizon, and T-Mobile was supposed to have the advantage of major telcos being onside to foster adoption and get major retailers on board. There are many reasons it failed:
Onboarding – Difficult To Sign Up
Softcard required much more than downloading an app. Users had to then find a corporate AT&T/Verizon location and locate a staff member knowledgeable about it. If so, sales associates then had to locate the special SIM cards required, assuming they had some in stock. Then and only then, could a user actually register for the service. In a world where apps are deleted after a single crash, how many people would endure this?
Softcard required the user to accept it as the default app for NFC payments. If one did not remove Google Wallet as an option for mobile payments, the Softcard app would not even open. It’s tough to get people to jump with both feet and abandon an incumbent app entirely without even knowing the alternative.
Poorly trained staff at supposed Softcard retail locations did not have requisite knowledge to accept the mobile payment method, and sometimes lacked the correct POS equipment. Once users realized that the majority of locations listed in the app would not actually accept this form of payment, they gave up on it.
So with a whimper, Softcard is absorbed by Google Wallet. The pleasure that we derive from this is not personal in any way, but is really just vindication with a splash of hedonism. At TapTrack we’ve made B2B enterprise applications our focus, insisting that NFC is not yet a true consumer facing technology. So far that focus has served us well. We continue to navigate the NFC space with the solace that only great products with positive user experiences will gain adoption regardless of the amount of investment or brand power the company commands. In an industry of Goliaths, this gives hope to all the other Davids out there.
Mar 16, 2015