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Just when it looked like the hype around NFC mobile payments was finally beginning to die out, Isis has announced it’s rolling out its service across the U.S. by the end of the year.
The NFC mobile payment joint effort from AT&T, T-Mobile, and Verizon was announced almost three years ago, but suffered delays before it eventually hit its test markets of Austin, Texas and Salt Lake City last fall. Isis allows you to pay for things simply by tapping your phone to a near-field communications terminal. To use the service, you’ll need an “Isis Ready” phone with NFC and secure SIM capabilities.
“Over the past nine months, we have proven the power of an open platform, creating an ecosystem of literally hundreds of partners dedicated to making mobile commerce a reality,” Michael Abbott, Isis’ chief executive, said in a statement today.
Indeed it’s been a long road for Isis, and for Abbott in particular. At Mobile World Congress early last year, we had a lengthy discussion about the state of mobile wallets and why he didn’t feel the need to rush Isis out the door. He didn’t think there was much competition among mobile wallets, so he didn’t feel too threatened by Google Wallet and other competitors. Abbott believes Isis is building the infrastructure for a payment platform that will last the next decade.
“We’re solving for a four-sided market,” he told me at the time, pointing to the fact that Isis needs to make sure consumers, merchants, payment companies, and its parent carriers are happy with its product.
I still have my doubts about the future of NFC-based mobile payments, especially as simpler options like Square and PayPal make inroads in local businesses. But during its pilot program, Isis managed to see some interesting results: Isis users tapped more than 10 times a month, two thirds of users chose to receive offers from brands, and more than 80 percent of payments occurred at locations like gas stations, convenience stores, and coffee shops.
Isis says more than 4,000 businesses now accept Isis mobile payments in Austin and Salt Lake City, and it counts nearly 20 million smartphones in the wild that support NFC. (Though I wonder how many of those smartphone owners know how to use it.)