Did Apple just win the payments game?

The short list for prizes for the most under-stated headline now includes this gem for our friends at Mobile Payments Today. It reads ‘MNOs face some uncertainty with mobile wallets.’ It should have included a cartoon of an executive having a panic attack, or being crushed by an Apple or having a panic attack because he is about to be crushed by an Apple.

Once again, we see Apple biding its time, working relentlessly on doing something significantly different, and easy for the customer.

Once again, Apple has shown how overpowering their market position is, and how feared (and loved) they are by service providers. And, of course, how the device manufacturers hold the whip hand, whereas before it might have been argued that operators held that position. They won’t allow operators access to their NFC chip, and it is interesting, as the article points out, that the banks are rushing to work with Apple, but not so keen on working with operators.

The payments scene has, indeed, changed significantly in the last few days. It is the new billing (and customer experience, and almost everything else, including the battleground for the next few months).

Once again, it also proves that consortia of mobile operators who try to work together to provide ‘a seamless this’ or a ‘simple that’ are simply not delivering. We know that innovation by committee (see ISIS – the payments one – rhymes with crisis) does not work. Anyone know what it is called now? We know that Apple, and the other Thrilling Three are able to engage customers on a scale that no-one else can. This is truly amazing, given Cato Rasmussen’s insight of yesterday.

What is also interesting is that some operators, that have the market strength, are also doing interesting things, with the launch of iTunes Codes from O2. Very simply this allows customers to buy anything from the iTunes Store – apps, music, books, you name it, via Direct Operator Billing.

The consortium mentioned in the article is Weve, a UK effort to do, er, what Apple has just done, make mobile payments easy and safe. Tony Moretta, who helped set up Weve, and then left summed the situation up when he said that “there’s never been a problem with [NFC] technology. The problem lies in the business case and the fact that you need lots of different parties working together.” And if you are called Apple, the queue of those wanting to be a partner goes right round the block. Telefonica opened an office in Cupertino, just in case the phone rang and it was them.

Disruption is here to stay and the digital eco-system is going to be a place of sharp elbows, secrecy and unexpected announcements for the foreseeable future. We are about to live in even more interesting times.

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About Alex Leslie 400 Articles
Alex was Founder and CEO of the Global Billing Association (GBA), a trade body focused on the communications sector. He is a sought after speaker and chairman at leading industry conferences, and is widely published in communications magazines around the world. Until it closed, he was Contributing Editor, OSS/BSS for Connected Planet.


  1. Its a bit like spending a load of money on throwing a party at your house, only to have a really good-looking guy show up half-way through and invite all the girls back to his place.

    Where do the MNOs go now with their payments party? Seems they only have two choices – sit down with your loyal mates, pour everyone a drink and accept defeat, or dream up some innovative, whizz-bang new payments experience that will have Apple wondering why they didn’t think of it first.

    Anyone for a vodka martini? Shaken, definitely shaken.

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