If you've ever tried to buy anything on your mobile phone, then you've probably experienced what I have: frustration. This requires keying in a website password, a sixteen digit credit card number, expiration and probably even those couple of numbers on the back of your credit card. That means, no matter how sure-fingered you might be, you'll probably screw something up and have to start over once or twice. Yet, the New York Times has a good article today about investors predicting that paying by cell phone may be the wave of the future. I think they could be onto something.
From the Times' article:
The aim is to turn phones into virtual credit cards or checkbooks, enabling the kind of click-and-buy commerce and online banking that people have come to expect on their PCs. But shrinking down those services to fit onto cellphones presents serious challenges.
The services must work on many different phones and through many cellphone service providers, which usually control the billing relationships with customers. That adds complexity to the already tricky business of safely and securely transferring funds among financial institutions and merchants.
Those challenges seem minor to me. If they could create this technology for the PC, I'm sure they will be able to adapt it to the cell phone before long. But I think those investors and technologists might be neglecting an even bigger potential market for cell phone-driven commerce.
What I'd like to boldly predict, is that eventually your cell phone will enable you to leave your credit cards behind when shopping at places like malls, gas stations or hardware stores. What if there was a chip in your cell phone that worked similarly to MasterCard's tap-and-go "PayPass" technology?
The biggest obstacle I could see would be security. If I paid for stuff with my cell phone, I'd be even more worried about leaving it somewhere or having it stolen. One solution might be requiring a pin number, similar to what we use for debit cards. But given its technological prowess, I have to believe that the cell phone could handle this problem even more elegantly.
How about this: what if voice identification software were developed for cell phones? Imagine waiting on the line at the grocery store. Instead of going for your wallet, you take out your cell phone and press a button with a credit card on it. Then say into it, "Sally Boy" -- the name of your favorite dog growing up. The phone then tells you that your credit chip is activated, and you tap the end of your cell phone on a pad at the register to complete the transaction.
Not only would the phone recognize the password through voice recognition technology, but also your unique voice pattern through voice identification technology. That way, the thief would need a recording of you saying your password to use the cell phone for purchases. Admittedly, this will take some additional technological innovation, but it doesn't seem too far-fetched to me.