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For a handful of pioneers, the mobile payments revolution needn’t wait for questions about hardware to be resolved. Not when so much is possible with software innovations on existing phones.
Most companies agree that embedding a near-field communication chip in mobile phones is the endgame, but it may be a few years before such devices are widely used. There are still questions about who owns the customer relationships, and introducing new phone hardware will take time as well.
Meanwhile, much of the software infrastructure needed to create a so-called mobile wallet is already available.
“There’s a whole other side to the NFC chip” beyond what the hardware can do, said Drew Sievers, chief executive and co-founder of mFoundry Inc. in Larkspur, Calif.
Starbucks Corp. uses software from mFoundry for its mobile app, which displays a bar code to make payments - users hold the phone’s screen in front of a special reader, much as they would hold an NFC-equipped phone over a reader at the point of sale once such hardware becomes commonplace.
The Seattle coffee retailer said the true value of its mobile app is not how customers use the phone at the point of sale, but in how they use the phone before they even get to the cash register.
Many shoppers prolong their time at checkout by reloading their prepaid Starbucks cards, slowing down the line of other customers. Since the mobile app lets users check their balances, and if necessary reload the card, at any time, they can do it while they wait in the queue.
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