Will Apple Pay play in the UK today?

(Try saying that title several times quickly).

If you are a follower of technology news you will, undoubtedly, have seen somebody writing about Apple Pay. If you haven’t seen anything about it, do let me know how your hibernation was. Of course, you can read and watch all about it on Apple’s page.

There’s been a positive reaction to this new way to pay and lots of discussion. And, of course, lots of people writing-up their experiences. Engadget have a good piece comparing Apple Pay and Google Wallet to using a credit card.

Of course it’s only available in the US so all the experiences you read about are there. But here, I think there will less of a ‘WOW’ when the system is, eventually, launched. Using the tap/wave approach to paying may be new but the UK has had contactless payments for some time. Suitably equipped phones – while few and far between – have been able to do this for a while. In 2008 (6 years ago, in case you aren’t counting) my bank, Barclays, started issuing contactless cards that allowed a tap payment for amounts under £20 (no PIN, no signature, no handing over your card).

I’ve been happily paying contactless for a while to the point where I don’t really notice it anymore. But, I thought I’d pay attention today and see how easy it is. For, if it’s already easy, are solutions like Apple Pay and Google Wallet going to make a big change to payments here in the UK?

This morning I took the train into Waterloo Station in central London. A smart-card ticketless system, Oyster, has been in place for years. But recently contactless card payments have been accepted by those little yellow readers. I took my Oyster card out of my wallet months ago and tap on the gates with a credit card. This morning, my wallet comes out of my pocket, I tap on the gate, I get to the train. The card didn’t come out of my wallet. No pressing of any buttons on any device. I don’t think it could get much easier.

And, from today, that tap on the station ticket gates also donates a penny everyday to the Mayor’s Fund for London thanks to the Penny For London initiative. No change coming out of my pocket into a tin and I feel a little better doing it.

On my way to the office I buy my breakfast, Porridge and a coffee if you’re interested, from one of the massive number of Pret A Manger stores in the city. I order, my pots are in a bag and I tap my card. This time I do take it out of my wallet. No fiddling with change.

My colleagues are not in the office at lunchtime so I go for a short walk. It was a very short walk because, today, the tourists seem to be crowding the streets around my office more than normal. I pop my head around Tesco’s front door and see the queue to pay is much shorter than normal at this time of day. A salad and spicy popcorn is paid for at the self-checkout with a tap of my wallet (again, I don’t even get the card out). The biggest hassle here is bagging my lunch.

On the way home it’s tap in and tap out at the station. I’m going to the gym so I get off a stop earlier. Contactless payment on London’s transport system is really simple & adoption seems to be picking up. Because I’m writing this piece I logged on to the system’s website. I’ve registered my card so I can download my payment and journey history if I want to. I check the statement and I notice that there were two occasions recently when my tap on the reader didn’t register properly and I am charged a higher journey fee. I update the records and click ‘apply for refund’. I’ve never had a problem getting a refund in the past. I can also see that capping has been applied because the sum of the individual journeys was higher than the equivalent daily travel-card price. I don’t do anything for this to be applied. They also operate a weekly cap but I don’t seem to spend enough with them to hit that very often.

On the way home I walk past The Hand & Racquet, a pub on Wimbledon Hill Road. I had a couple of pints there last night with a former colleague and, yes you guessed it, a round of excellent bitter was paid for at the bar with a tap on the handily placed card reader. Not for me the pockets full of change you invariably end up with after an evening in a pub.

Dinner, tonight, was already in the fridge but I wanted to pick-up some vegetables to go with it. The Co-operative near my house allows me to pay the £3.30 by tapping. In fact, the hardest part here was having my Co-op membership card swiped. The plastic on that card is separating so it doesn’t go through the reader very easily.

And that’s my day. Lots of small transactions all done without cash. In fact, so many of my days are like this I often forget to check I have cash with me so when I do need it, it can be a bit of a surprise.

My experiences here are genuine, I didn’t specially pick the shops to write this. If I’d gone to the sandwich shop for lunch then I would have needed cash. Many pubs don’t have the handy card reader and, of course, all my transactions were under £20 which allows the tap and pay. I know many of the mobile payment systems allow larger value payments but, today, I wouldn’t have needed them.

I love the advantages of tap-to-pay. With these transactions there’s no automatic receipt and I usually decline them so I’m not stuffing my wallet with ‘a useless paper receipt’ (as I once called them) and, of course, there’s no change lost down the sofa.

Nice, Mobiles and TeleMedia

The session I was speaking at, ‘The New Monetisation Paradigm: Content, Advertising, and Markets of One’, was surprisingly well attended given the 4pm start time: conferences can be long hard days and 4 o’clock is certainly more ‘retire to the bar’ time than ‘explore new business model opportunities that can generate revenue through advertising’ time.

Last week I was in Nice, which is nice, especially in the sunshine. Truthfully, temperatures were hotter than I feel comfortable in and I had to be really careful as I’d failed miserably to plan for such heat and forgot hats and suncream. Luckily, the bars on the beach all have umbrellas for shade. And beer used for cooling purposes.

I don’t recall ever having been to Nice before, so I was unprepared for the rich and the beautiful people wandering around. Bernie Eccelstone’s doppelganger, in the nicest sense of that word, was drinking beers at a beach-front bar on Thursday afternoon which was unsurprising as the Formula One circus was in town, or rather, in the next town; the Monaco Grand Prix revving its engines in preparation for Sunday’s race. Sitting here a few days later I can tell you that Lewis Hamilton won which means the bruises are worse as I have been kicking myself for not extending my visit and catching, at the very least, some practice circuits. Possibly a golden opportunity missed.

Fortunately, I was prepared for the TM Forum Management World 2008 conference which I was speaking at. I don’t usually speak at this kind of event (large conference) but was looking forward to it, especially as I was in one of the break-out rooms speaking to audiences with an interest in ‘Advertising & Monetizing TeleMedia Services’. The conference is aimed at the telecoms business in general with sessions ranging from ‘End-User Device Management’ to ‘Using SDF/SDP for Rapid Service Deployment’ and not an advertising-specific event. In fact, Microsoft was speaking on a whole range of topics unrelated to the ad technology world I’m used to working in (See also MSFT Press Pass). The session I was speaking at, ‘The New Monetisation Paradigm: Content, Advertising, and Markets of One‘, was surprisingly well attended given the 4pm start time: conferences can be long hard days and 4 o’clock is certainly more ‘retire to the bar’ time than ‘explore new business model opportunities that can generate revenue through advertising’ time.

Given it’s not an advertising-driven conference I wasn’t sure exactly how to pitch the presentation of Microsoft Advertising’s view of monetisation opportunities so I opted for a general view of display-based advertising markets, value & opportunities in a multi-screen environment that a Telco could easily provide. My co-presenters, Grant Lenahan from Telcordia Technologies and Gary Galinsky from Call Genie had taken slightly different views of advertising options on mobile, incorporating non-display opportunities (which include SMS messaging and ad-funded calling). All together, I think the three stories gelled into a very intriguing story for the operators’ representatives in the audience.

Thankfully, all three if us had taken these different approaches to the idea of monetising services which meant that, while we were in overall agreement, our presentations were sufficiently different for the audience. I’ve found one of the downsides of some speaking engagements that are put together by third parties is a lack of, if you’ll pardon me, engagement with your fellow speakers. Last week, I don’t believe it really mattered as there were good stories to tell.

I focused on the Microsoft Advertising suite of tools to tell my story of ‘connected advertising’ which, in a nutshell, suggests that advertising should no longer be considered separate by medium. Advertising is a conversation, a long-term engagement or a multi-layered pitch to a consumer. It’s not a 30 second radio spot, a 728 banner or mobile coupon. It’s all those plus relationships from other communication tools or social sites and a compelling future, at least for me, is one where advertising messages know this and ensure you’re not burned by messages nor are you swamped by irrelevant promotions. Advertising becomes both connected and smart.

So, where does mobile fit in? Well, my co-presenters were able to give compelling success stories for monetisation today: and some things are a long way from traditional thoughts of advertising. My pitch, if you like, was more of a future think-piece. The dots are not connected yet but they could be. I wanted to ask the audience to forget traditional notions of advertising and think how advertising to customers may become part of a larger communication through connected technology. I believe that’s better for everybody and I wanted to hear what they had to say about it.

The discussion that followed the presentations was fascinating for me. I come from a background of working with content owners who need to generate revenue via advertising to provide the services they’re offering. Much of the audience didn’t come from that perspective; many were – understandably – unfamiliar with advertising processes and the roles each player in the ecosystem fulfils. Many represented the service provider in the mix who may, for example, be providing a gateway for others to advertise rather than sell media space themselves. It’s a very different viewpoint and I thoroughly enjoyed the challenge of adapting my experiences to a different environment. Only the future will show which way it will play out and, unlike the Monaco Grand Prix, I can’t sit here and tell you who the winner will be.

Disclaimer: the views here are my own and are not necessarily the opinions of my employer nor of the conference management. You have read the full disclosure, haven’t you?