Filed Under: Identity, Telecoms and Technology

“Personal” computers weren’t

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Kicking off the session on “Old vs. New P2P” at Mobile Banking & Payments in New York, Steve Kirsch (the CEO of Token) made the strong point that somehow the era of the PC and the Internet left the basic payment “rails” unchanged. For a long time we’ve papered over the cracks — using 3D Secure, PCI-DSS and so on — but with the arrival of the smartphone we could all see that it was time for change. What we may have underestimated is just how big that change will be.

it can still feel natural to talk of the PC as the most fully-featured version of the internet, and mobile as the place where you have to make lots of allowances for limitations of various kinds… I’d suggest that we should think about inverting this – it’s actually the PC that has the limited, basic, cut-down version of the internet.

[From Mobile first — Benedict Evans]

I couldn’t agree more. And in my framing, it’s all to do with identity. The PC was never personal: it didn’t have a SIM. My laptop isn’t mine in the same sense that my smartphone is and, as a consequence, will never be able to deliver as personal a service. Now, I suppose you could argue that it’s silly to talk about smartphones as PCs because they are, after all, phones.

The study also showed that four in ten users could manage without the call-making capability on their handset.

[From Soft cell: 40% of Brits don’t make calls on smartphones – report — RT UK]

I rarely make calls on my smartphone and I rarely answer them either. Unless it’s the police, my CEO or my wife then I’ll let it go to voicemail or hit the “please text me if it’s anything important” button. Calling it a phone is just a figure of speech, like when you say you are going to dial a number to someone who has never seen a phone dial and has no idea why the word “dial” is used in that context.

So what is the smartphone for?

We’ve all seen a thousand conference slides that show the smartphone as a Swiss army knife: calendar, watch, contact book, diary, games console, social media gateway, radio and so on. But if we go back to Benedict’s point, then we can answer the question in a different way. My smartphone is… me. Well, as good as. It’s sort of proxy me.

a smartphone knows much more than a PC did… It can see who your friends are, where you spend your time, what photos you’ve taken, whether you’re walking or running and what your credit card is.

[From Mobile first — Benedict Evans]

We can all see the what the consequences are in payments and banking. The practical result of the identity-less PC vs. the proxy-identity smartphone is that when I want to transfer some money or pay a bill, I use my excellent Barclays mobile app. I’ll only use my laptop if I absolutely have to because I have to type stuff in (like setting up a new payee). Conversely, it seems bizarre that when I phone up my bank, or my insurance company, or my airline or whatever else, I’m asked to demonstrate my identity by getting involved in (as I heard someone describe it recently) an episode of Jeopardy hosted by Kafka — OK, Franz, let’s go with “places I have lived” — when they could just ask the other me. The mini-me. The mobile-me.

Similarly when I go into a bank branch or a retail outlet or a government office, why do they ask me for bits of paper that cannot possibly be verified when they could just ping mobile-me. App pops up on the phone, you put your finger on the sensor, job done. And just as the crucial role of the smartphone in disrupting the payments industry is to take payments, not make them, so the crucial role of the smartphone in disrupting the payments industry is to validate credentials, not present them. Since my mobile-me can check that your mobile-me is real, our mobile world ought to be much safer our internet world.

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