I Spent a Few Hours in the Future and I Liked It

Tuesday I was in New York City for the day on business. After finishing up my last meeting it was time for me to make my way to the airport to head home. The process of getting from 34th and Madison to my seat on Delta flight #6054 at LaGuardia took me through a series of events over the course of a few hours that gave me a hopeful glimpse into how we will perform everyday transactions in the near future thanks to mobile consumer technologies.

I started things off by launching Uber’s smartphone app to request a town car. With the evening taxi cab shift-change in full effect (good luck tracking down a cab that will take you out of Manhattan at that time of day) and an expiring promotion from Uber that would make the entire trip cheaper than a taxi ride anyway (thanks Ed!) I requested one of their contracted drivers pick me up through the app. With Francisca, my driver-to-be, estimated to arrive in 13 minutes (an unusually long wait for Uber by the way) I went across the street to grab an ice coffee from Starbucks for the ride. After ordering my drink I paid for it by showing the barista my phone which displayed a barcode from the downloaded Starbucks app for her to scan. The barcode contained my Starbucks card information and credit balance for her to deduct the appropriate amount from. After picking up my drink I went outside to meet Francisca who had called to confirm my location and her momentary arrival. Once we arrived at LaGuardia I thanked her and went inside Terminal D- no payment transaction required. That’s because the fare was calculated by Uber based on the time, distance and tolls incurred during the trip (which was tracked via GPS) and charged to my credit card on file with Uber, who emailed me a receipt of the transaction with all the details by the time I made my way inside Terminal D.

To get to my boarding pass I skipped the ticker counter and kiosks and headed straight to the security line where I opened up an email from Delta and launched the link to my QR code-based boarding pass. Aside from my driver’s license for identity purposes, that’s all I needed to get to my flight’s gate. Since I made it with time to spare I decided to grab some dinner at a restaurant called Bisoux. At my table, and every other seat in the restaurant for that matter, was a tethered iPad and electrical outlet. So while my phone was recharging I pulled up the restaurant’s app on the iPad to order my meal. I paid for my food, including tip, by swiping my credit card through the credit card reader attached to the outlet and had the receipt emailed to my work address. While I waited for my food to arrive (about 15 minutes), I used the iPad to catch-up on some email (and Twitter once my food had arrived). After I was done eating I got up and left without having to track someone down for a bill and payment. Heading over to the seating area at my gate I was greeted by more iPads and outlets (in fact the entire Terminal D at LaGuardia is outfitted with iPads, credit card readers and electrical outlets thanks to OTG Management, an airline food service company) to catch up on my news feeds until it was time to board my flight. One more showing of my QR code boarding pass to the gate attendant and I was off for DC.

In total, during my 2 ½ hour experience that took me from Manhattan to LaGuardia:

  • I conducted 4 transactions (buying coffee, transportation to the airport, buying dinner and boarding a flight)
  • Used 5 physical items to complete these transactions (smartphone, driver’s license, iPad, credit card and credit card reader)
  • Paid for everything using 2 mechanisms (smartphone and credit card)
  • Used 2 wireless networks (Verizon’s mobile network and LaGuardia’s WiFi network)
  • And in only 2 of these instances could I not control the timing of the entire experience (ordering at Starbucks and waiting in the security line at the airport)

With a few realistic software updates and better planning though, these four transactions could have been completed using just one device, a driver’s license and one wireless network by (1) incorporating the payment mechanism directly into the restaurant’s ordering app from OTG Management and making the app available for my smartphone, (2) enabling drinks orders through the Starbuck’s app and (3) enrolling in TSA Pre√ to avoid the traditionally slow security line experience.

Some other insights about the future I came away with from this experience:

Battery Life: This continues to be a huge issue with smartphones, which are increasingly being instrumented to perform computer-like tasks as a result of apps, GPS utilization, mobile browsing and multi-tasking (I drained half of my phone’s battery in a matter of 3 hours due to my little experiment). Without quicker improvements in battery life technology or in the development of wireless charging capabilities, which uBeam is attempting to tackle, the adoption of many of these types of consumer applications, especially those that leverage location, will be hindered. Until batteries can meet the daily demand of consumers the proliferation of charging stations at airports are an adequate solution but needs to be more broadly deployed across additional public and retail spaces (coffee shops, malls, etc.) to be truly valuable.

WiFi Networks: Connecting to publicly identifiable WiFi hotspots is unnecessarily challenging for laptops, let alone smartphones as quickly degrading connections and networks that require “additional information to log on” are a drain on productivity. Add to this the disparate WiFi policies across venues, such as WiFi being free at Washington’s Dulles airport but not at New York’s LaGuardia, consumers’ ability to enter and complete transactions is severely curtailed when a wireless carrier network isn’t available (like in a building or subway for example). Ideally the wireless carriers would take it upon themselves to aggregate various WiFi networks and offer up access as part of a mobile plan. Until there are better, more consistent solutions, companies like Connectify, which aggregates multiple broadband connections into a single high-bandwidth link, and Open Garden, which provides crowd-sourced mobile connectivity, are attempting to meet consumer demands for greater availability and throughput by leveraging the current publicly WiFi infrastructure.

Payments: Two types of mobile payment experiences are emerging in the real world depending on whether you are purchasing a product or service. When buying physical goods, like a cup of coffee, QR and barcodes are being used to facilitate digital payments at the register or provide proof of purchase. In these scenarios services like LevelUp from SCVNGR and Square, which recently announced a deal with Starbucks, are providing the underlying payment processing and generating the associated user codes. For transactions that involve purchasing a service, like a car ride, the entire payment experience can occur within the mobile app itself with companies like Braintree, which is used by Uber, and Stripe providing the transaction processing and merchant notification. At the end of the day what all these companies are vying for is a piece of the worldwide mobile payment transaction market which is expected to reach $1.3 trillion in 2017 according to Juniper Research.

Mobile Wallet: While every transaction I performed was through a specific app, the future of mobile payments is `all about the mobile wallet. Companies at every point in the mobile commerce value chain are joining forces to get their cut of the fast-growing mobile payment market by attempting to aggregate consumer activity and demand. Isis, the wireless carrier-backed initiative, is slated to debut next month on the heels of this month’s announcement from a group of brand name retailers and merchants regarding the launch of Merchant Customer Exchange, which is building its own consumer mobile payment application. Sitting between the carriers delivering the underlying mobile service and the retailers at the point of sale are mobile operating system providers Google, which provided an update on Google Wallet earlier this week, and Apple, which demoed Passbook this summer for the much rumored new iPhone, who are launching their own competitive mobile wallet initiatives. The key to the success of any of these services will be their ability to go beyond just providing a frictionless payment mechanism. The applications that seamlessly incorporate payment options, purchasing preferences, loyalty programs and promotional offers directly into the mobile app and transaction process will be the most successful wallet solutions.

Identification: While the mobile wallet has the ability to create a contact-less payment society, the one physical item it won’t eliminate any time soon is the government issued ID. A truly digital form of personal identification (be it a driver’s license or passport) would be too easy to forge or replicate by criminals and implementing fingerprint or retina scanning as an alternative form of identification is wrought with infrastructure and privacy concerns. So until biometrics can become a viable and cost-effective solution, the physical wallet is here to stay- unless you decide to use a mobile phone cases that doubles as a wallet.

It’s interesting to see how software development and hardware advancements are continually being leveraged to simplify and speed up the experience of completing transactions by challenging legacy models and removing manual steps in the process. Combined with business innovations, consumers are finally able to control when and how these activities are being executed which further enhances the overall experience. While not perfect, from what I was able to do over those few hours, I like where our future days are headed thanks to mobile.

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