[Dave Birch] Being a technologist, I’m often accused of not understanding customer needs and dynamics. I now know that this is true, and it’s because of a story that showed up one morning in my daily trawl around the world’s NFC-related news.

Panasonic Europe has unveiled its new Eluga smart phone, an slim waterproof Android handset that features built-in NFC technology.

[From NFCNews | Panasonic to launch waterproof NFC phone for Android]

I did wonder when I saw this story why on Earth anyone would want a waterproof NFC phone since I didn’t think that NFC would work underwater (I don’t know whether this is true or not, but I do have a vague memory from my rather hazy days as a physics undergraduate that high frequency field propagation through liquids is different from field propagation through gases – hence the use of very low frequency radio communications to talk to nuclear submarines).

Communication with submarines is difficult because radio waves do not travel well through thick electrical conductors like salt water.

[From Communication with submarines – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia]

However, as someone much smarter than me in our development team immediately pointed out, I’m thinking of the wrong use case. The actual use case is…

101,000 people claimed for mobile phones dropped down the toilet in the last 12 months (uSwitch, Feb 2011)

[From Phones 4u – Mobile Phone Insurance]

Aha. If we’re going to replace the plastic card with the mobile phone, then we have to have these practicalities in mind. If you drop a fiver in the toilet, it might be salvageable. An iPhone not so much. And if you flush your debit card it will take days to get a new one, whereas if you go and get a new phone then your m-debit card should appear over the air automagically.

I imagine that one of the reasons for the 101,000 phones dropped into toilets — sorry to be graphic, but if we’re going to shift to mobile wallets we’re going to have to understand the characteristics and dynamics of mobile use — is that pfaffing about on phones has replaced reading books of Giles cartoons and last week’s Sunday papers as the default leisure activity in the smallest room. Reprovisioning those phones that are dropped, lost, stolen or broken will be an essential part of the mobile proposition, because if you drop your physical wallet in the toilet, it’s gone and that’s the end of it (unless you’re going to get all Trainspotting about it). Of the phones that don’t go round the U-bend, an awful lot go missing in other ways.

the [Transport for London] lost property office at Baker Street takes in about a thousand mobile phones a week.

[From Clive James on… Upstairs Downstairs, Melvyn Bragg on Class and Culture, and Make Bradford British. – Telegraph]

If there are a couple of thousand phones a week down the khazi and another couple of thousand a week left on the bus and another couple of thousand stolen and another couple of thousand dropped and smashed… that’s a fantastic opportunity to demonstrate to the man in the street the advantages of mobile over conventional cards and paper money. If we do it right, that is, which means putting as much effort into customer service, call centres and help desks as into sales and invest the right amount in staff training.

This is one of the reasons, incidentally, why the mobile operators feel that by going for SIM-based NFC solutions they will be able to deliver a better customer experience. I should in fairness report that my first experience in this respect has been rather good. For reasons too dull to elucidate, I walked into an Orange shop and bought a splendid new Samsung Wave 578 with QuickTap. I took the SIM out of my old Samsung Tocco and put it into the new 578 and fired it up: hey presto, my BarclayCard MasterCard was magically transferred to the new handset ready for use. Well done chaps.

These are personal opinions and should not be misunderstood as representing the opinions of
Consult Hyperion or any of its clients or suppliers


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