The hour of the updates is upon us. First Apple with iOS 6 and now Microsoft with Windows Phone 8. Both have done plenty to revive their relevant operating systems. You can check out what Microsoft has done here and Apple here.
Included as part of the update package has been some sort of mobile payment management system. For Apple, it’s Passbook, the big M has gone for something called Wallet Hub. Both are predictably different and both let you pay for things using your phone. So how do they work? And what do you need to get them working?
First up let’s take a look at Microsoft’s offering as it’s freshest out of the bag. Announced alongside a stack of other Windows 8 updates, Wallet Hub is basically a way to manage the NFC technology which will be coming with all future Windows Phone handsets.
The Hub app
Pretty much everything NFC and payment related with Windows Phone 8 is going to take place in the Wallet Hub app. The application can store credit cards, debit cards, coupons and boarding passes. These can then be used via NFC and if you have a secure SIM, which we will talk about later, let you pay for things using tap to pay.In fact Wallet Hub will be the sole payment method for everything on Windows Phone 8 devices. This means even in app purchases are going to be done using the application.
It is a very straightforward-looking app, boasting all the usual trimmings of Windows Phone. On the first page of the application is an All page, which lists everything you have stored in your mobile wallet, from credit cards to library membership. Go right and things get a bit Groupon-like, with a location-based deals page that shows offers around you. Nokia maps integration with the deals page also means you can find directions straight to the deal from within the application.
Actual deals themselves will be redeemable in different ways. All we have seen so far is scannable QR codes, although it is possible the app could offer deals in all sorts of different ways. We'll be interested to see how competing deals' services interact with Wallet Hub. Take O2’s Priority Moments for example, will it incorporate directly into Microsoft’s offering? Or exist as a separate app.
Here is where Wallet Hub gets a bit confusing. In order to use mobile payments, you need a special secure SIM provided by your network. Unlike things like Google Wallet, which are embedded into the phones themselves, the SIM means you can take payment details with you from phone to phone.
The problem is that secure SIM relies on network providers playing ball. So far only Orange Telecom France has announced plans to stock the SIMs, although expect plenty more to be joining ranks later on.
Not just about payments
Proper NFC support in Windows Phone 8 means every handset running the operating system will be able to interact with each other. It also translates to NFC functions in other places, say an NFC business card for example, which can be imported straight into Windows Phone 8.
Tap and Send is another new feature added to Windows Phone 8 which uses the NFC tech. Think of it like the Bump app or Android Beam - it is there for you to share content between phones using NFC. Tap the handsets together and sharing is done, simple as. This also works with Windows 8 devices using NFC.
Now on to Apple’s attempt at a payment and card-management system. Don’t forget, right now there is no NFC in the iPhone or iPad, so things work a bit differently here. But the idea is essentially the same; manage all your tickets, passes, coupons and vouchers from one app.
The Passbook app
Open up Passbook and you should find all your tickets and the like stored in one single place, complete with a scannable QR code. Naturally the tickets will show things like time and date as well as your name.
On top of this things like store cards will show your current in-store balance, adjust themselves when used and feature a barcode to be scanned in when making payments. Once you are finished using one of the cards then a settings menu will let you do things like delete it or rename it. The delete animation is particularly cool, shredding the card virtually.
Crucially the app is location based. Say you are near Starbucks, then Passbook will give you a notification saying so in your lock screen. Sliding that notification will then open up the relevant pass or card in Passbook. The cards used are also live so can be updated at any time, even pushing out things like changed boarding gates when getting on a plane.
Apple has gone into very little detail as to how exactly Passbook is going to fill up with tickets and cards. From what we can work out, it requires integration into other apps in order for them to be able to store passes.
Using Starbucks as an example, rather than having to fire up the Starbucks app and navigate to your membership card, it will just be stored in Passbook as will any other apps with similar functionality.
This means initially there may be some lag with Passbook’s functionality as developers integrate the service into their application. Once setup however it could prove very useful.
The lack of NFC in the iPhone makes using your Apple device to easily pay for things very difficult. However Passbook is quite clearly the beginning of a system which Apple is developing. This will likely materialise with the next iPhone although in what form we can’t be sure.
There has been talk of a Bluetooth powered wave and pay system being incorporated into the new handset. This is likely as opposite to NFC, Bluetooth is already a widely adopted technology and could be easily rolled out to shops.
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