Mobile - Your Flexible Friend?
Not so very long ago, you may recall, mobile phones were used exclusively for, well, ‘phoning. Then this texting lark crept up on the rails and before you know it we’re sending hundreds of text messages per month and – if we’re in the USA – voting for Bristol Palin to carry on dancing. Then someone had the idea of sticking a Carl Zeiss lens on the back, and so the mobile became our camera and photo album rolled into one. Then it became our music player. And our games device. And our personal organiser. And – hooray – our means of accessing the Internet, allowing us to visit eBay and buys ships and shoes and sealing wax, and to learn that Jeremy wants to be our friend on Facebook (confirm/reject/not now).
Oh, and it’s going to be a credit card.
Well, it’s already a means of accessing your bank balance, isn’t it? So why not take things that one step further: forget that little plastic oblong tucked inside your wallet, simply swipe your handset over a bar code reader, the money comes out of your account and the new sofa is yours.
This, anyway, was the view propounded at Planet of the Apps earlier this month; whilst it was met with a certain amount of scepticism, the proposition had its fair share of adherents.
I have been brooding on this. I know that m-commerce is more typically the bailiwick of Mr Howard Wilcox of this parish, but this, I feel, goes far deeper than the simple question of whether or not mobiles can replace credit cards. Because the mobile has become much more than the Swiss Army Knife 2.0: it is the repository for our entire lives. And therein lies the problem.
In those olden days (the millennium or thereabouts), when cameras were cameras and banks were buildings on the high street that never opened on Saturdays, our activities were siloed by necessity; they also required us to keep track of our lives in a tangible, physical format – in photo albums full of blurry polaroids, in dog-eared address books, in bank statements. That is changing, and the speed is change (and its implications) is frightening.
As the handset becomes the point of access to, and indeed default storage locker for, the myriad minutiae of our existence, the potential loss of that handset becomes a far more menacing prospect. It could be argued that the polymathic nature of the smartphone makes it far more likely. Let us say that the smartphone becomes our credit card. It is also our camera. In the latter guise, it is something that we regularly wave around in public, attempting to take pictures of friends and relatives larking about on the Trafalgar Square lions, of bands at rock concerts, or whatever takes our fancy. Speaking personally, I am not in the habit of waving my Mastercard around amongst throngs of tourists or in the sweaty environs of a nightclub. There might, I reason, be the slightest possibility of the odd light-fingered scally or two in their midst with a spot of thievin’ on his mind. And here’s the problem. One minute you’re taking a photo, the next your credit card is halfway down the street and rapidly receding into the distance. Along with your photo album, music collection, diary and address book.
Scallies, of course, are not the only potential hazard. Credit cards are probably less effective after a pigeon has relieved itself upon them from a great height – again, not so much of an issue when your credit card is produced for the millisecond before you insert it into the cash machine outside Tesco, or indeed for paying for goods inside the aforementioned store (where low-flying pigeons are not a common phenomenon), but when your credit card is also a camera or even being used to make a call: boy, did my colleague’s Blackberry catch it yesterday. I’ll bet that pigeon felt better.
Ah, say the credit card proponents, but you’ll have backed everything up in the cloud, won’t you? No, you won’t – you’ll have forgotten, because you had a thousand and one other things to do. Or you won’t know how to. And your life will be gone, or at least covered in what a pigeon ate for dinner last night.
This is part of the wider problem that we face: managing the transition to a mobile-centric world. It ain’t easy, it won’t be easy, but we have to do it, because – whether we like it or not – that transition is happening. I can’t pretend to have the solution to the credit card conundrum, but I suspect that is a conundrum that will be taxing a lot more of us in the medium term.