#payments

Apple Pay sounds great, but the most surprising thing about the announcement is that Apple doesn’t seem to be taking a cut. Oh wait. The other shoe — Elizabeth Dexheimer:

Under deals reached with banks individually, Cupertino, California-based Apple will collect a fee for each transaction, said one of the people, who requested anonymity because terms aren’t public. While that gives the tech company a share of the more than $40 billion that banks generate annually from so-called swipe fees, lenders expect to benefit as consumers spend more of their money via mobile phones and other digital devices, the person said.

This seems like the type of deal that only Apple could get away with. It reminds me a bit of the deal they struck with AT&T for the first iPhone. But this is with several of the major banks, not just one.

We’ll see how much money this adds up to over time. If Apple Pay is at all successful, it’s going to add up.

Ben Basche:

It also dawned on me what the point of the iWatch might actually be. If the iPhone 6 is technically the “first” iDevice with NFC, might iWatch be the cheaper NFC wallet option during the transition to NFC in the iPhone install base? Apple’s crude attempt at backwards compatibility? Perhaps with an old iPhone paired to an iWatch, you too can lose the plastic for iWallet.

Perhaps the greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world that the “iWatch” was just some digital watch…

Ian Kar:

According to Noyes, while banks control the card-present/not-present rates,  the networks negotiate the rates with payments processors. The differences can be dramatic. Apple was apparently adamant about getting the card-present rates and told issuers that it would assume some of the fraud risk inherent in every transaction by providing a secure element via biometric authentication (its TouchID feature) and location data provided through an NFC chip. The Apple payments platform will work with all of their cards.

Banks offered the discounted fee for two reasons: for the Apple payments platform to accept all of the cards from the issuers, and for Apple to assume some of the liability by including two secure elements that will authenticate transactions — location data via the NFC chip, and biometric security. This is essentially a wash for the financial services industry: they lowered fees for Apple for the privilege of being included in Apple’s payments initiative, but managed to put some of the transaction risk to Apple.

If all of this is true, it’s potentially massive. And it may speak to why Apple may have finally greenlit the use of NFC technology in their products, even though they could have presumably done everything they wanted with the already-implemented Bluetooth LE tech.

Jordan Kahn:

When entering a credit card number into a form online to, for example, make a purchase, Safari already allowed users to quickly select credit cards stored in its Passwords & AutoFill settings. You can still do that, but in iOS 8 you’ll now also have the option to select “Scan Credit Card” and snap a picture of the card. Apple then uses optical character recognition of sorts to input the number into the text field in Safari. There’s also a way to scan and save cards using the camera directly from within the Passwords & AutoFill settings.

Another subtle, but potentially huge feature. Entering credit card numbers, especially on a phone’s small screen, remains a huge pain in the ass. Some services use this pretty basic OCR to make the process easier, but doing it at a system-wide level will be much more powerful.

To counter my last link, here’s Chris Dixon:

But the most exciting aspect of Bitcoin (and this is admittedly more speculative) are all the interesting new business and technology models that “programmable money” could enable. For example, I am very bullish on micropayments (this is a longer topic which I plan to write about separately). The world recently ran its first large-scale micropayments experiment – so called in-app payments on iOS and Android – and despite some serious design flaws (centralized control, 30% fees), it was a smashing success. I think Bitcoin could enable a micropayment system for the open web, and thereby provide a business model beyond banner ads for many important services such as journalism.

I’m not claiming that Bitcoin (or any new technology) can save the economy or the world. The technology industry is in the business of creating products and services that either enable new activities or make existing activities less expensive. Venture capitalists are in the business of funding entrepreneurs who run experiments to try to create these new products and services. I believe the only way the technology industry can offer meaningfully improved financial services is by building new services that don’t depend on incumbent companies. Bitcoin is a serious proposal for dramatically improving the payments industry. There are plenty of open questions but I think it’s an experiment worth running.

This is the best argument for Bitcoin that I’ve read yet.

Square Is Trying To Take Magic Mainstream

Just in case my love letter last November didn’t make it abundantly clear, I’ll reiterate: I love Square. We’re not investors, but I wish we were. I love both the business and the product. And if that level of admiration makes this post biased, then color me conflicted.

Apparently well aware of my tweets and posts, the company brought me in to show me the latest thing they’ve been working on. It’s the evolution of their Card Case product to morph it into a more central part of their overall strategy. It’s technically called “Pay with Square”, but when installed, the new app simply reads “Square”.

That’s telling. Square, the card reader (now appropriately called “Square Card Reader”), has been the way most people think of the product and company. But that’s limiting because it’s so focused on merchants. It’s a great business, and an important one — but if Square is truly going to revolutionize payments, they need to get the consumers fully on board.

Enter Pay with Square. Using Card Case has been nothing short of magical. It’s one of those experiences that when it happens, you wonder how the hell they did it — and also why the hell it hasn’t been done like that before?

But there’s a flipside. Because the experience is so magical — so natural — it almost seems as if something is wrong when it happens. It simply can’t be that easy. You can’t possibly pay for something simply by saying your name and doing nothing else, right? The most common reactions I’ve seen to Card Case in public are “now what?” and “that’s it?”

That’s Square’s biggest barrier to entry with Pay with Square: they need to convince people that they don’t need to put up with the nonsense they’ve been doing for decades. You don’t have to swipe a card. You don’t have to sign anything. You pay by having your smartphone on you. And your payment is verified by your name (and face). 

With Pay with Square, Square is ditching the wallet metaphor (of Card Case) and simplifying things to just be a list of venues of interest that are close by. At first, I was a bit surprised by this change because I liked the design and the card metaphor (which is still sort of in place). But this actually makes a lot more sense. Don’t cater to the baggage of the past, replace the past.

I’ve been using Pay with Square this past weekend and it’s great. The transition from Card Case is seamless because it’s essentially the same thing, just reworked in an attempt to take it more mainstream. 

To that end, Square also put in quite a bit of work to make Pay with Square work on Android as well. Because Android doesn’t have the same geofencing capabilities native to their SDK like iOS does, this was undoubtedly a huge pain in the ass. Square essentially had to build the technology from the ground up to make their Android app work in the same way that the iOS one does. 

Thanks to this work, Square has managed to do the seemingly impossible: make Google Wallet look even worse. While Google is wasting time (and apparently employees) trying to move from a credit card swipe to a tap-to-pay by way of NFC, Square has been busy building the future. A tap is a bit more simple than a swipe, I suppose. But screw that. You should be able to pay by doing nothing at all.

As you may be able to tell from my posts on our portfolio company Highlight, I love the idea of mobile apps that work without the user have to do anything. Highlight alerts you as you move around. Pay with Square allows you to pay for things by walking into the place you wish to buy something. 

Again, magic.

The next trick is signing up more vendors to accept Pay with Square. Luckily, products like Square Register are complimentary. They just need iPad adoption to keep growing at the pace it has been. And it will.

And Square needs to convince people that the ability to pay without doing a thing isn’t actually magic, it’s just one of those things that should have always been done this way that technology now allows for. It’s a more natural way of doing payments that just happens to seem like magic because of the baggage we all carry.

It’s technology at its best.

More about Pay with Square on Techmeme.