Things to think about around Mobile Payments UI

Pretty obvious that UI is important, right? I mean, it’s a fairly small device, small screen, keying not so easy, has to be secure, has to give the perception of security, can’t be wacky and too wierd… you get the drift. Aside from those lucky iPhone users (I’m still biased for my Nokia N95 since I hate soft keyboards), mobile phones are still not an easy device to use for non-voice and not-text communication activities…
So, what’s the best mobile UI for mobile payments? Answer: well, it depends…
Ask yourself the following questions:
1. Who’s the end customer? What country? What networks are there? Smartphones or all phones? Data plans? What’s the standard way people access services on their phone in that region? Global rollout or local only?
2. How will you be reaching them? Are you a carrier or partnering with one? Can you provision the phones for your customers yourself? Will your customers be expected to learn the service on their own with minimal instruction?
3. Will you be cutting a deal with an operator? Or are you looking for a solution that easily scales globally and not operator-dependent?
Some thoughts (Disclaimer: I am NOT a technical person… my thoughts are more commentaries on people’s adoptions of these technologies and the business models that they are dependent on.)
1. Client Applications: Aside from iPhone (detecting a common theme here?), it’s very hard to distribute applications. Assuming the majority of your customers will download the application is not good (again… aside from… you know.) What about having device OEMs (abroad) or Carriers (US) provision the apps on the phones? Good luck. Those deals take a LONG time unless you are a carrier or device OEM… Are applications nice? Definitely. But someone has to provision the phones since any glitch in a download by an end user is the death of the service. (And you need an Internet connection for this.) The one exception is if you have a MASSIVE brand name and customers want your application (Google email), but those are few and far between, esp. for mobile payments.
2. WAP: Mobile Browser – sure, OK. Fine. Needs to be 3G, though (again, iPhone users need not worry). (By the way, obviously, the customer needs a mobile Internet connection for this. In some countries, customers pay per byte… can get quite expensive.)
3. SMS – Lowest common denominator for mobile telephony. Great for alerts, but tough as a mode to initiate a service. Why? The syntax is tough for customers to learn… If they know the syntax, then that’s great (ala Philippines). Also, for payments, depending on the region, operators may decide they want in on the action and hold up short code provisioning… So, be prepared to pay up. By the way, SMS is not secure for authentication purposes. There are encryption methods, but none that are currently standard for all devices (to my knowledge)
4. USSD – This technology is very cool. It leverages text-based SMS-like UI but with menus. Very cool. Unfortunately, it works for GSM standard only (By the way, there are similar technologies for non-GSM networks). The biggest downfall, however, is that an operator deal is required to provision the code.
5. IVR – Interactive voice response system. This is about as low tech as it gets, but it’s secure, easy… doesn’t require any internet access, etc. Hoping to reach everyone? Audio on the phone works. Downfall: expensive and clunky.
Remember, there are MANY variables to take into account before settling on how the service will reach your customers over the mobile phone. It’s important to understand not just how customers feel comfortable using their phone, but the implications of the various technologies with players in the value chain.

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