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Mobile wallets - I still can't find what I'm looking for

Everyone who’s anyone in the mobile industry gathers each year at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain. Unfortunately, not even there can we get a mobile wallet to work.

Over the years I’ve bemoaned the lack of a mobile wallet at Mobile World Congress (MWC). You would think there, of all places, we could make it work. But over the years, progress has been slow.

For those who attend, you may remember:

  • The year the first contactless point-of-sale systems were introduced at the show, which then sat unused because much of the staff didn’t know how to use them, and the cards wouldn’t scan
  • Early mobile payments when the paella place at the at the top of the hill by the old Hall 8 tried PayPal payments, which worked, but were too slow to compete with cash or cards
  • The numerous MWC mobile apps (first J2ME, and latter native Android and iOS) that, whilst very nice, really paled in comparison to the show app for SXSW, on which is loaded content (even digital swag!) with which you could manage your entire show planning, and sync across platforms/channels and more.

Then MWC 2013 introduced mobile NFC ticketing. As regular readers will know, I’m at the front of the queue when it comes to new mobile tech. And whilst my phone at the time (which in fact is still my phone — my trusty iPhone 4S) didn’t support mobile NFC, I was in luck. The previous November I had attended the GSMA Mobile Commerce and NFC show in Milan. At the show, NFC had been heavily promoted, and I left with a new Samsung Galaxy Mini 2, which supports mobile NFC.

However, as I prepared to enroll for my MWC 2013 NFC pass, I discovered it required Android 4.0+, and my phone, which was now not even a year old, was still stuck at Android 2.3.6.

This was rather disappointing. Mobile NFC had worked wonderfully in Milan — I’d even used the phone as a Metro pass/ticket with no problems. So, it was unclear why a different MWC event wouldn’t support this device. Oh well.

At any rate, in 2013 Incipio offered free "Cashwrap NFC" cases for iPhones, so I was finally going be able to experience the world of NFC.

NFC iPhone Case

By the end of the Sunday pre-show prep, I had the NFC case and was signed up for the service. At which stage I went in to my usual evangelist mode and tried to get others to sign up, too. The conversation generally went like this:

ME: Have you signed up for the NFC ticket?

COLLEAGUE: What’s that?

ME: Oh it’s great. You can use your phone to get in to the conference, and there are lots of NFC-enabled info stations around the venue.

COLLEAGUE: Oh, okay, so what do I do?

ME: Really simple. Go to one of the pick-up stations to get your case.


ME: Yes, a case.

COLLEAGUE: So I can’t use my current case?

ME: No.

COLLEAGUE: Does the NFC case protect my screen?

ME: No.


ME: Anyway, you get the case. Then you install the app.


ME: The GSMA event app.


ME: No, this one’s worth downloading. Okay, so then you need to log in with your internet credentials.


ME: Ah — do you have your PC with you now to get them?


ME: Okay, but assume you do. Once you’ve got your username/password, then you take a picture of yourself.

COLLEAGUE: And I’m done?

ME: Not quite. Then go to a validation desk with your photo ID and original MWC pass/ticket.

COLLEAGUE: That seems like a lot of effort.

ME: Yes, but then you don’t need to show your ID to get in.


ME: Yep, well sort of. The staff told me that only one in 15 are scanning.* So, probably best to bring your photo ID just in case.

COLLEAGUE: But it’s faster?

ME: Well… So far, despite there being no queue for the NFC entrance, I took longer to get through than everyone in the regular queue.

COLLEAGUE: Okay — but at least I don’t need to wear that huge lanyard/badge combo?

ME: No, you still need to wear that.

[And… scene]

At which stage most people decided it wasn’t worth the effort.

I love mobile, and ignoring NFC credit cards/Oyster issues , I’d love to see mobile NFC work.

The issue isn’t the technology. It’s that in most cases the effort outweighs the minimal improvement mobile NFC brings. It has to be better than cash or cards. Just being a new technology is not enough — even for the über mobile.

And whilst I still don’t have a personal, real-world use for a mobile wallet, Incipeo has two mobile wallets I’m really interested in: the Stashback and the Stowaway.

* Regarding the failure rate: I’d be willing to bet this was never an issue with the Incipeo cases, which worked fine for me every time. My guess is most people never completed the multi-step registration process, and so never fully activated their NFC badges.