Watching Apple

by Jeffrey Green 0

I read with interest recently an articleciting rumors that Apple may be developing a “smart” watch thatsupports mobile payments. My first thought was, what’s so new aboutthat? Another thought centered on how some tech companies tend todigitize things common in humankind’s historic analog life.Bracelets with embedded radio frequency identification chips thatsupport payments also are becoming more common.

About a decade ago, I had a Timex watch that also supportedpayments. Offered by Mobil in a limited test, the watch had aSpeedpass RFID chip in the wristband. When I bought gas at Mobilstations, I placed the watch near the Pegasus image at the pump,and that accessed my preregistered credit card on file. Impressedmy friends, or at least I thought it did at the time.

Mobil, which since has merged with Exxon, no longer offersSpeedpass watches. My Speedpass watch stopped running after aboutfour years, and I haven’t had a watch since. My mobile phone servesas my watch now.

And that leaves me to wonder why Apple, which created a thing ofbeauty in the iPhone, would pursue watches as its next technologyto perfect. Seems like a “back to the future” event, but itillustrates that Apple has payments on its mind, if not technology.And if it sees a market for a payments watch, millions certainlywill flock to get one. Watches are becoming popular again, andApple is notorious for perfecting what’s trendy.

According to the article, the watch would operate on Apple’s iOSmobile operating system and use Apple Passbook payment software.Apple hasn’t yet introduced its own Passbook payments, but thewallet does support some payment functions using quick-responsecodes, including Discover’s prepaid gift cards.

Interestingly, Mobil, now ExxonMobil, hasn’t added a mobileSpeedpass product. The company easily could have produced Speedpassstickers customers could affix to their phones, or even watches.But it chose instead to keep the proprietary technology on a keyfob.

Payments is not a core business for ExxonMobil, and that may bewhy the oil company isn’t adapting to the times. Payments alsoaren’t Apple’s specialty, but that apparently hasn’t stopped itfrom endeavoring to bring a piece of jewelry into the 21st century,or at least back to the end of the previous one.