The 29th edition of Cartes in Paris has been a strange old show. Meeting friends old and new is still an integral part of this annual calendar marker, but the show itself seems to be evolving into something new. Previously we’ve seen a market place, busy stands full of the latest tech demos and enticing you to rollout a new way of paying. 2014 is a different show – noticeable big exhibitors absent; card networks running only a series of meetings rather than demonstrating their latest ideas; a new zoning concept grouping supposedly like businesses together and creating a changed flow of people. It is also a show that demonstrates in the most marked way the ongoing shift in the cards business.
Traditional POS manufacturers and their imitators are thin on the ground this year, replaced by a bevy of mPOS device providers with their Bluetooth battery life claims and acquiring apps for any mobile device. Most of them seem to be looking for a first customer for their black plastic box (often with a blue LED) before gaining the certifications demanded by the industry. And this is one of the indicators of our changing playground – many new players ‘having a go’ at doing things that seem simple without realising that there is significant investment ahead of them to become compliant and interoperable. Where this was a barrier before, the much clearer certification paths created by years of refinement and a growth of managed services in this area mean that help is at hand and a budget for the next step is more definable.
A second focus has been the re-form-ing of cards. Much talk of M2M and the Internet of things and how will the traditional model morph to meet the challenges. There are lots of discussions on the security aspects of these devices – how to tie the required credentials into open devices with out creating open wallets for thieves to plunder. There are creative, new (and old-fashioned) solutions on how to let your fridge automatically pay for groceries at your online store – and a bigger discussion on if the cards infrastructure can really support the varied authentication methods coming into being.
And finally, for me the star of the show, Watchdata’s Sharkey smart watch. Yes, it looks like the love child of ICE watch and Google Gear, but the concept it outlines is one that we’ve all been waiting for since the earliest concepts of watch payments nearly 20 years ago. Essentially it is a smart watch with secure element and ISO 14443 contactless antenna (just like the upcoming Apple Watch) but what differentiates this is the ecosystem that is being built around it. The watch can house multiple contactless format applications such as traditional payment schemes, but also transit applications and many others yet to be invented. The fundamental principle is that I can load on digital versions of my existing apps – payment card, city transit pass, eID – and then if I travel, I can load on local applications such as the local transit pass, a local currency prepaid card or even event passes and etickets. The watch then becomes the form factor facilitating my interactivity, but linked to the outside world through a short secure Bluetooth connection with my phone, tablet or PC. It resolves the open connectivity issue with using a mobile for payments and takes away the ‘get it out of your pocket’ conundrum that makes mobile such a bad form factor for paying. Best of all, it answers the age old question – wouldn’t it be cool if your could pay with your watch?