Softcard was a mobile payments platform that used near-field communication (NFC) technology to allow users to pay for items using their phones. My primarily role was to lead the the 3.0 release for Android which introduced the ability for users to add “other” cards to help expand app usage beyond payments.
With the rapid pace of technological innovations and mobile phone adoption, imaging a time where we don’t have to carry a physical wallet full of payment cards and cash seems like a very realistic reality in the not-so-distant future. In 2010, four years before the launch of Apple Pay, AT&T, T-Mobile and Verizon created a joint venture called ISIS Mobile Wallet, later renamed to Softcard for obvious reasons, in order to pursue this mission by utilizing existing partnerships with large retailers to launch an ecosystem designed to increasing portfolio of NFC-enabled mobile phones.
Our early pilot tests in both Salt Lake City and Austin across 4,000 locations proved that loyalty and offers were compelling reason for people to try out this new technology even if they didn’t quite understand how it works or the security benefits it offered. Here are some compelling stats from our pilot:
"Facilitating 1,000,000 transactions through the mobile wallet over the last seven months confirms that the era mobile commerce has arrived. I am proud that Jamba has been able to serve as a leader in the space.”
James D. White, chairman, president and CEO of Jamba Inc.
In order to expand to a larger user base, we knew we had to allow users without a compatible phone or a compatible SIM to take advantage of the loyalty and offer capabilities. By removing these hardware limitations, we knew that having loyalty and offers were a great way to motivate new users to start using the app.
When you look at your wallet, you’ll see a number of cards that aren’t payment or loyalty cards. From gym cards, library cards, insurance cards and even coffee shop punch cards, there are a number of cards that don’t quite fit the typical payment and loyalty scenarios. We wanted people to really embrace the idea of having a truly digital wallet by having a secure place to store the information on the one thing you almost always have on you.
The initial tests and interviews with users showed that our redesign greatly improved the experience. Loyalty and offers were more compelling reasons for new users to try the service than providing an alternative to physical payments that didn't really save time for untrained staff that were unprepared to handle these transactions. Unfortunately, due to the launch of Apple Pay as well as an unfortunate rebranding effort caused by the militant group we shared the same name with, we were unable to launch the redesign before getting acquired by Google.
Seeing the team’s influences in the various mobile payments efforts that have since emerged after our demise are the silent victories that I like to celebrate. Even though most people might not see the influences, I know that the card layout found on Samsung Pay, the offers and loyalty approach found on Chase Pay, and the Smart Tap found on Google Pay and are all thanks to some of the ideas from our original team.
Even though mobile payments is growing, consumers are left with a confusing and fragmented experience due to companies trying to completely own the entire experience. Instead of trying to educate consumers and expanding adoption, these companies have tried to disable payment terminals just to exclude competitors. I am hopeful that more people will discover the benefits of mobile payments and slowly change the demand for faster adoption. Some other things I learned in the process:
"What the consumer wants instead – and has used – is a simplified mobile commerce experience: An account that’s smart enough to keep track of all of their loyalty memberships, coupons, promo codes, and to apply those discounts automatically to their purchase at checkout – without the friction that gets in the way of actually checking out."
Karen P from Mobile Payments Successes And Failures