Google+Softcard Levels Field Against Apple

24 Feb 2014

Well done Google. As predicted last month, Google announced last night that it had acquired “some exciting technology and IP from Softcard”. The price? My guess is around $50-60M, plus multi year revenue share (below). This is a FAR cry from the $3-$4 BILLION that these same Mobile Operators wanted for “NFC RIGHTS” in 2011. Google proposed a rev share back then too.. but MNOs were convinced they could go it alone. After dropping almost a billion in ISIS/Softcard with no future revenue of any kind in sight the drivers of the deal were obvious. Not only did carriers need an exit for their investment, they needed a partnership that gives them a role in the future of mCommerce.

What technology will stay? The SE Keys and the vending machine acceptance terminals.. seriously.. 98% of what ISIS/Softcard was is completely dead. My biggest unknown? I would love to see if Amex Serve could pick up the pre-paid card from Mastercard.. as the banks wanted to beat up my good friend Ed McLaughlin for doing what I still think was one of the best most innovative deals ever (Google pre-paid).SONY DSC

What did Google get? MANDATORY GOOGLE WALLET. That’s right, now EVERY ANDROID phone sold by the carriers will have wallet installed. This addresses a key advantage that Apple has in mandating an iTunes account (with credit card) for activating the iPhone. Apple’s brilliant registration process allowed it to know its customers (ID, card on file) where Android/Google did not. Many analysts believe that this ID/Payment deficiency is THE KEY reason why Apple’s environment is 8x-10x more profitable with less than 20% of the handsets. Now Google can compete in all things which require identity+payment. Not JUST in buying apps/music in Google Play, but in orchestrating commerce and brokering identity. I cannot understate the win here for Google. A brilliant move, and I firmly believe that this was the primary driver of the deal. Don’t look at this as a ApplePay competitive thing, it is about enabling Google to identify every Android holder as a default “opt in” during phone activation (iTunes Account Mandatory = Wallet Account Mandatory).

The Carriers? A partner that will share revenue. Where Apple takes 15bps for itself, my guess is that Google will give that to the MNOs, plus some revenue share for play services. My TOP 2015 prediction was that this would be the year of partnerships.. This is certainly my top new one for the year. MNOs are losing sleep about Apple’s unmatched “walled garden”, no one plays but Apple here. Google is developing an open model and this deal may be the first template for MNO/Platform revenue sharing.

Banks? Google will likely slowly “roll out” of its Google Wallet Card (also see TXVIA blog) which wrapped all other cards in a Mastercard Debit. Banks will be able to sign up for Google Wallet through network agreements just as they do for ApplePay today (at same rates/rules). This will mean that the networks will provision bank cards as tokens, and that Google will also benefit from forthcoming CNP token rules this summer. The primary difference in GW operation is HCE+Tokens (see blog). The Google Wallet model is not dependent on the SE Keys, or SD storage.. but it CAN operate in a non HCE model (from its GW 1.0 lineage).

Payment Networks. BIG WIN. Cards are the defacto standard for everything in mobile. I’m interested to see if the networks recognize (certify) the HCE card emulation application, as of 3 months ago it was still not certified. My belief is that they certify as part of tokenization scheme acceptance. This is a funny side story in itself. Most would ask how Google Wallet could run a non-certified card emulation app. Remember that the ONLY card being emulated was a Google owned mastercard debit.. just a brilliant work around. Note that in ApplePlay, Apple operates as a tier 1 token requestor in the current ApplePay model, and V/MA/Amex are tier 2 token requestors (see this excellent blog by SimplyTapp). In the Google model Visa and Mastercard will act as both Tier 1 and Tier 2 token requestors.

Big Losers? Samsung. OUCH!! No wonder they had to buy loop. Their new wallet strategy was to have a DUAL NFC/LOOP wallet. Google just got all the SE keys for the Samsung Phones. This means that Samsung’s wallet will only work on new phones.. a rather rough place to start.  Paypal.. with the birth of a new CNP scheme this summer driving ApplePay and Google Wallet beyond Apps to mCom checkout.. Paypal has no future in Mobile…  Except in emerging markets.

More to come.. but wanted to get this out today.

11 thoughts on “Google+Softcard Levels Field Against Apple”

  1. Tom, thanks for yet another brilliant payment analytics!
    I guess that Google is vulnerable to MNOs in this business structure. As long as telcos are the oldest business in the world and they can find payment solution which is more profitable for them than Google and maybe doesn’t necessarily connected to V/MA/Amex.
    The problem with telcos is that they are acting like dumb pipe while Google/Facebook and others monetize on this pipe’ datastream.

  2. The biggest loser(s) here was/is the Softcard employee and the android consumer trying to build and generate interest in this ecosystem from the ground up with rich offers. I forgot this is business and that shareholder value trumps consumer expectation and employee value.

  3. Tom,
    Another Softcard accomplishment that should not be overlooked in this transaciton is their POS protocol, Isis SmartTap™. This tech allows a more seamless user experience at the POS by enabling simultaneous payment / loyalty / promotion delivery to the POS terminal as well as two-way communication with the POS system.

    It is unclear how important this was in the transaction rationale, but it could be a hidden gem in the deal.

    – Peter

  4. Interesting read as always, Tom. One question: Why is having Samsung Pay only available on new phones “a rather rough place to start” for Samsung when the same was true for Apple (albeit for different reasons)?

    1. Saumsung has a huge footprint in the US.. with over 100k NFC enabled handsets. This combined with NO PREINSTALLATION AND the inability to use any of its NFC functionality (no SE Keys) makes SamsungPay loopPay only

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