Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Mobile Phones To Do Anything!

David Birch is starting a war on cash and this was the theme behind this year's Digital Money Forum held in London on March 2nd/3rd and arranged by Consult Hyperion. A report of the event is given elsewhere in the Newsletter.

At times it was hard to hear a good word about cash, vitriolic reverberations would tell you that cash is bad and is the invention of governments to control the economy and to surreptitiously devalue the assets of its citizens as and when required. It must be a crusade because it wasn't obvious exactly how mobile payments are going to solve this and yet it seemed with few exceptions to be the general view of the room that mobile payments will be the saviour of mankind.

I must confess that the Digital Money Forum has brought about its fair share of excitement over the years but this year it was quieter, the odd spat but actually none of the battles that perhaps the organisers might have hoped for. There was to me a strange acceptance that cash is going to be replaced, not totally you understand, and that the mobile phone is everything. Look no further the future is clear.

I want to argue that both assumptions may be wrong, and there is no evidence that I can think of that would prove that physical cash will continue to exist. Do we really believe that cash as it currently exists will still be around in 50 years time? The protagonists here assume that the products from Visa and MasterCard will move into the cash space and will mop most of it up leaving just the very bottom end behind which is totally uneconomic to process. This of course assumes that nobody puts forward a real cash alternative.

The second argument is to think about how the mobile phone might develop over the next 50 years, will it be a fundamental part of our life? Of course it will be an integral part of our day, just as much as the computer is today but with an even wider capture of the population. The thing is that you need to just stop and think what's going on here. The mobile phone or at least the smart incarnations now dominating the mobile phone sales are capable of providing a voice channel as and when required and here's the new bit (well relatively new) it can also store, process and communicate data.

Now here is my argument, the mobile phone could do anything, take my electronic toothbrush, it's pretty sophisticated, it has Bluetooth, with data and processing ability to ensure I get the right amount of brushing but I wouldn't actually want my mobile phone to act as my tooth brush. When necessary I'm quite happy to carry a separate object in my bag. The main argument of the mobile futurists is that we the citizens only want to carry one object, the mobile phone, because it can do everything. In addition they can show through market research that we never forget our phone whilst other objects like our wallet might well get left behind.

Of course, I deliberately picked an obscure situation with the toothbrush but I think the assumption that you must have your wallet and by inference all your payment items in the mobile phone is equally flawed. At the very least surely we want to distribute risk?

Security is one of those subjects that many find easy to ignore, as long as it hasn’t happened to me then it will be alright. I remember once a good friend explained to me that selling security was like trying to sell a bad smell, you certainly don’t get long queues. In the news today there are stories of Google removing malicious applets from the Android market and the Zeus Trojan infiltrating the Blackberry phone and effectively taking control, there have been earlier reports of it attacking both Symbian and Windows Mobile phones as well.

My next proposition is that Mobile phones will become the prime target for malware (actually they probably already are the target) and it will not be easy to stop. Any device that allows the user to download executable code is going to have a problem that is not going away any time real soon. You might imagine that it would be possible to security audit software before allowing the modules to be downloaded, that’s a problem that people have been looking at on PCs for at least the last 20 years with no silver bullet in sight. Of course you could restrict the software to do very little but then nobody would want it.

But it’s a fun world ahead of us,
David (on behalf of Patsy)

1 comment:

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