A recent article in The Wall Street Journal mentioned that Google could team up with MasterCard and Citigroup to pursue a role in mobile payments; this is yet another indication that disruption is looming in the payment space.
In his keynote at 2011’s Mobile World Congress, Google CEO Eric Schmidt stated that “NFC should revolutionize electronic commerce as well as payments.”
What does Google have to do with payments? Well, it has already rolled out (quite unsuccessfully so far) Google Checkout. What’s different about this new proposal is that this is not just about payments: Google would embed Near Field Communication (NFC) technology in Android mobile devices, allowing consumers to make purchases by waving their smartphones in front of a small reader at checkout counters. So what? Well, NFC is more than just a payment technology; it brings mobile payments together with mobile marketing and loyalty programs. As with mobile devices in general, it helps bridge the digital and physical worlds.
Today, Amazon announced the Amazon Cloud Drive. I think it is the first salvo in a series of steps that will lead Amazon to compete directly for the primary computing platform for individuals, as an online platform, as a device operating system, and as a maker of branded tablets.
Much of the attention is going to the Amazon Cloud Player, announced at the same time, which enables customers to stream music stored in Cloud Drive – Forrester’s Mark Mulligan blogged about that for Consumer Product Strategists (Amazon Beats Apple and Google to the Locker Room). But the general purpose design of Cloud Drive, combined with the long-term opportunities for personal cloud services, lead to a really interesting set of possibilities and insights into Amazon’s long-term strategy for Vendor Strategists trying to sort out the technologies and players of next-generation personal computing platforms.
Amazon has just beaten Apple and Google to market with a cloud-based music locker service. As with the anticipated Apple and Google services, the Amazon cloud music product enables users to upload and stream their music on multiple devices (in this instance, on PCs, Macs, and Android phones and tablets – though not iPhones nor iPads). All US Amazon customers start with 5GB free and can then upgrade for $20 a year to 20GB, but buying an MP3 album at Amazon will automatically give the extra 20GB for free.
There are, of course, rights controversies around locker services. Digital music stalwart Michael Robertson is currently locked in legal combat with EMI over his cloud locker service MP3Tunes. The important factor with this service is that Amazon requires customers to upload their music file by file and store them rather than matching them against a cloud-based central repository of music, much in the same way that Carphone Warehouse currently does in the UK with its Catch Media-powered cloud locker service. (Which can be a pretty painful process for users. Remember the first time you ripped all of your CD collection? Now imagine doing that over the Internet . . .)
The rights issues, though of course important, aren’t the really interesting points here. What is interesting is why Amazon has done this, and what this means for the wider digital music marketplace.
Most of the hype in advance of today’s Apple media event is rightly about a new iPad. Sarah Rotman Epps will post on her blog about the new iPad for consumer product strategists after the announcement. I’m focused on the published reports that Apple’s Mobile Me service will be upgraded. I cited Mobile Me as an example of emerging personal cloud services in a July 2009 report, and I’m working on a follow-on report now. Mobile Me is Apple’s horse in a contest with Facebook, Google, Microsoft, and others, to shift personal computing from being device-centric to user-centric, so that you and I don’t need to think about which gadget has the apps or data that we want. The vision of personal cloud is that a combination of local apps, cached data, and cloud-based services will put the right information in the right device at the right time, whether on personal or work devices. The strengths of Mobile Me today are:
Synced contacts, calendar, Safari bookmarks, and email account settings, as well as IMAP-based Mobile Me email accounts, for Web, Mac, Windows, and iOS devices.
Synced Mac preferences, including app and system preferences.
Mobile Me Gallery for easy uploading and sharing of photos and videos.