The end of the UK three pin plug for charging your gadgets?

Mu plugSometimes it’s the simplest ideas that can be the most innovative. Travelling with UK gadget chargers has always been an awkward business because of the bulky design of the UK three pin plug. It’s an awkward shape and has a habit of sticking its prongs in the wrong places!

Back in 2012 the team at Made in Mind launched the Mu folding plug for charging Mobile phones. I acquired a charger at the time which I carry with me whenever I leave home. It does the job of my iPhone charger with none of the bulk. The prongs pivot to fold flat and the charger closes over them, reducing the size by 70%. It’s simple but revolutionary because it completely changes the dimensions of the standard UK charging plug.

Now Made in Mind has developed the concept further and produced two more versions – a more powerful charger for iPads and other tablets and a charger with two inputs for charging two phones at the same time. These follow the same principle as the original charger with pivoting prongs to save space in your bag. The new chargers work similarly to the chargers supplied with phones and tablets – the tablet version is rated at 5V and 2.4Amp to deliver 12 Watts, similar to an iPad charger, and can also be used to charge phones. You can see the technical specs here.

What’s happened to Apple’s legendary software reliability?

There are many reasons why Apple products are so popular with users; great hardware design, ease of use, reliability, features, functionality; to name a few. We’re used to receiving new versions of Apple software each year and the new functionality these annual updates bring is eagerly anticipated by Apple users.

Whilst there are always bugs and glitches that get resolved in updates, this year the issues have been much more significant. There have been many comments online about the current crop of software bugs and personally I’m experiencing far more issues than I would normally expect with new releases.

On my iPhone and iPad I get random crashes in Mail, sounds disappear and reappear, apps freeze and unfreeze and sometimes require a device reboot, the keyboard doesn’t work correctly with third party apps, iCloud suffers from data issues. Attempts to restore my iPhone via iTunes resulted in an incomplete restore and then a restore with missing passwords and security credentials (despite the backup being encrypted). I could go on! On my Mac, WiFi turns off when the Mac goes into sleep mode, requiring manual intervention when it wakes. All these issues have appeared since upgrading to iOS 8 and Mac OS X Yosemite.

Back in 2009 Apple released the Mac OS X Snow Leopard update which focussed on improving platform stability. This year Apple needs to focus both iOS and OS X on software reliability, as well as new features. This would create a sound base to build out new functionality in the future.

I still believe Mac OS X and iOS have the edge and two major maintenance releases would confirm this. Disruption isn’t just about new stuff, it’s also about getting existing stuff right.

Looking back on payments disruption in 2014

As the year draws to a close it’s worth reflecting on some of the more interesting disruptions in payments we’ve seen this year. Highlights for me include …

The launch that will perhaps have the biggest impact on consumer payments over time was Apple Pay. Apple Pay takes a lot of the friction out of the transaction process and combines this with much improved security. Whilst it has got off to a fairly slow start in the US, once Apple starts promoting it via handset prompts and merchant acceptance improves, it will start to make a major impact. International expansion is scheduled for 2015 so will be interesting to see which banks jump on board in the UK.

The roll-out of contactless card payments across the London Underground, following the move to cashless travel on buses, is probably the biggest boost to contactless payment adoption we’ve seen since contactless first emerged. This will help contactless payment become a more mainstream payment choice in the London region – I’ve already surrendered my Oyster card!

Moven in New York launched to the public and showed the rich functionality a digital bank can deliver to its customers via an app. Moven has since licensed its technology to Westpac NZ and TD Bank, showing the interest that traditional banks have in delivering an enhanced digital service. I’m hoping we will see a UK Moven licensee in 2015.

The launch of Paym in the UK marked the start of simple, ubiquitous, mobile, person-to-person payments. Being able to pay someone with just their mobile number (no more account numbers and sort codes) was something I imagined many years ago and it’s now a reality, at least for customers of the banks that have got round to launching; and launching both pay and receive (unlike my friends at NatWest!).

One of my personal favourites this year was discovering there is a bank in the UK that has over 180 branches, no counters and offers a service that combines the best of personal banking with decent apps. Handelsbanken must be the best kept secret in UK banking!

It’s all about the payment experience

There has been much discussion recently about the decision of two retailers in the US to drop NFC payments in order to stop Apple Pay being used in their stores. These stores are part of the Merchant Customer Exchange (MCX) consortium that is planning to launch a non bank payment product CurrentC next year.

On the face of it, it doesn’t seem unreasonable for retailers to want to save on their card merchant acquirer fees, plus a bit of competition is always good. However CurrentC depends on consumers ‘doing more’ and ‘sharing more’. The payment process involves unlocking your phone, launching an app, scanning a QR code, the retailer scanning a QR code (apparently you hand your phone to the retailer!); and that’s after setup which involves sharing drivers license and social security details plus linking the app to your bank account.

Contrast the CurrentC experience with Apple Pay, where the transaction uses existing card details and nothing is shared with the merchant, not even the card number. CurrentC looks like it’s all about the merchant, with the customer experience coming a distant second. If MCX retailers believe that CurrentC is so much better than ApplePay they should allow the two products to co-exist and see which one the consumer prefers.

I’ve always taken the view that for new payment systems to succeed they have to do two things for the consumer; be better than whatever they are aiming to replace and remove friction and frustration from the payment process. CurrentC appear to fail on both these points which is why I think it’s destined to fail. In contrast, Apple Pay simplifies and secures an existing process using the cards which consumers are already familiar with. Apple is positioned as a trusted partner and enabler who speeds up the payment process for consumers.

As Apple CEO Tim Cook said the other day; “You are only relevant as a retailer or merchant if your customers love you”.

Wearables the future of payments? I’m not convinced …

A few weeks back I spotted the bPay band from Barclaycard which supports contactless NFC payments via a wristband. Using the bPay website you load money from a debit or credit card and then make payments up to £20 by touching the band on the usual contactless card readers in store. As a payments geek I had no alternative but to get one! After a couple of weeks my bPay band duly arrived; I topped up and headed out to buy some stuff. Waitrose, Boots, Caffe Nero, Marks & Spencer – the world was my Oyster (no contactless pun intended) …

bPay band
Paying with the bPay band

However, once I started using the bPay band I began to question the convenience and practicality of wearable payments devices. The band is poorly designed – it’s very uncomfortable because it’s bulky and much too wide. It also looks horrible on my wrist. I wear a Fitbit on my other wrist and the contrast is huge. The Fitbit is comfortable, slim and discreet – I don’t even notice I’m wearing it. And is paying with a bPay band more convenient than using a contactless card? Not to me. Once the novelty value of paying with the band had worn off I decided that using a card to touch a contactless reader was no less convenient, plus I could use the card of my choice. So yesterday I logged into my bPay account and transferred the balance back to my credit card.

My bPay band experience has got me thinking about the forthcoming Apple Watch. How practical will it feel for paying? How will I feel about smacking my £300 plus watch on a contactless reader? Will the benefits, like more secure payments, outweigh my concerns? The one big advantage that contactless cards have over phones and watches is that they are cheap and you don’t care about bashing or dropping them. I will be watching the launch of Apple Pay in the US to see what the feedback is on the usability of paying with the iPhone 6 and later the Apple Watch.

Anyway, whatever the Apple Watch payments experience, I’ll probably end up with one because of the other features!

Originally published on Billing Views.

Apple Pay – evolution or revolution?

Originally posted on Billing Views.

Innovation in payments tends to be evolutionary, rather than revolutionary. The success stories in payments tend to be based on taking what’s already there and making it work better. This approach also happens to be the way Apple has approached technology innovation for its successful product lines.

An Apple move into payments has been much debated over the past few years and this week we have at last seen their play in this market with the announcement of Apple Pay. Much has already been written about Apple Pay but in summary it improves both online and contactless payment experiences by incorporating NFC into the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus, utilising Touch ID and Passbook as a consumer friendly front end plus a secure element to manage the security stuff.

Consumers are better protected than with regular card payments because no consumer data is passed to the merchant – the transaction is handled using one-time security tokens. Improved transaction security is increasingly seen as critical by all parties in the payment chain with the frequency of thefts of customer card data. Removing customer data from the payment process is perhaps the most disruptive element in the whole Apple Pay product.

Even adding cards to Apple Pay is simple – you just take a photo of them.

Will Apple Pay catch the imagination of consumers? A combination of the Apple brand, device compatibility, card scheme support and (in the US at least) bank and merchant support means that it stands a good chance of becoming a mainstream way to pay. But consumers are fickle characters …

And of course Apple Pay works with the Apple Watch (which also extends Apple Pay to the iPhone 5, 5S and 5C).

My biggest disappointment with Apple Pay – it will be US only at launch!