Apps will become the orifice for all payments

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With the launch of Apple Pay, there is much excitement about mobile becoming the source of payment processing going forward.

The fact that Apple Pay has not come to India has not left Mobile payments too far behind in India. Several companies like OlaCabs and Taxiforsure have been creating mobile wallets of their own on their applications to make it possible for their users to be able to pay through the application for the services that they consume. Each of them currently offer a wallet, where one can store money and spend as the necessity arises. In my opinion, the wallet approach taken by each of the companies is not right This is primarily because people do not like managing too many wallets simultaneously. Its painful and tedious. Also, people love to have choice of service. Loading up cash on one wallet means I am tied to that service unless one is willing to manage multiple wallets.

What would be more interesting is to have ‘payment platforms’ which are integrated with many applications so that they become a way/protocol for cash transaction. Towards this end, companies like Paytm and Citrus Pay seem to be more interesting. A wallet which I can use for the purposes of paying multiple service providers. The only issue thus far has been the rate at which they have percolated through the system. If they can get multiple service providers like taxi services, e-commerce companies, etc. along with the existing utilities payment platform, it would make for a much more interesting play.

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Paytm has taken a step in the right direction by tying up with Uber. They will be able to act as the wallet for any user who wishes to use Uber. In a similar manner, I would like to pay using such a service for many of the distinct online transactions which I carry out.

In the US companies like SpotHero and RadPad (http://9to5mac.com/2014/11/14/apple-pay-parking-rent-winn-dixie/) are making it possible to pay for parking and even rent using the Apple Pay integration within their apps. In essence Apple Pay is acting like a mobile wallet, which many apps are beginning to use for various types of payments.

Extrapolating, one can see, the day is not far when all of your payments would essentially be undertaken through applications. Any and every payment that one needs to make to anybody will eventually move to the mobile wallets and we would probably stop using physical currency altogether. Not to mention the tens of cards that we currently carry around are probably going to disappear as well.

Apps will become the orifices through which all payments flow. The consolidation of all payments flowing over the internet into wallets is the first step towards making this possible. Mobile wallets need to start integrating with as many services as possible to encourage more users to put their money on the wallets. (The RBI rules in India do not permit a more elegant solution) It remains to be seen which service moves the fastest to integrate with the largest number of services as possible to make itself indispensable.

Paytm is probably on the right route, but it remains to be seen if they follow through beyond the Uber integration. It remains to be seen if they can crack through more services such as e-commerce.

‘Windowing’ Music – Monetise music better for artists

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The sales of CDs and records has been falling for years. When iTunes arrived and online sales of music took off; for a brief period of time it seemed as if a messiah had arrived who would put an end to the troubles of the music industry. It was not to be.

The troubles for the music industry began with the increasing penetration of internet. It has nothing to do with how the distribution took place. Around the mid 80’s music started going digital. By the mid 90’s it was truly digital. More music was being distributed on CDs rather than on tapes or records. The real trouble for the music industry began when copying became possible.

Vinyl records could not be copied. Cassette tapes could be, but involved a lot of work. I remember having to spend hours playing each cassette that needed to be copied. At times it was just not worth it. CDs made copying a lot easier. I could be done with copying a CD in a matter of minutes and the quality was  also as good as the original. I am from the Tape Cassette generation and I used to have to go to my friends place and get the Cassette or CD from him and record or rip at home. I was constrained by the distance that I could travel and the fact that all this consumed time.

The geographical constraints and time constraints diminished the injury that copying caused to the industry.

Internet changed all of that. The internet made the distribution of the ripped content easy. I could suddenly send across a song that I loved to a friend as a attachment on e-mail. Unintentionally, I was killing the music industry. When a music file was available for free, there was no further reason to buy it.

The dial up internet was constrained for speed. It made distribution of large number of songs still quite difficult. Every year after 2000, internet speeds have been gradually rising up. As the internet speeds increased, sharing larger and larger files became ever easier and piracy became the way to go. When I can get music easily for free, why should I bother paying for it? Then came along torrents (peer to peer sharing) taking internet distribution to a ‘Pro’ level. Today, it is possible to get the entire discography of any artist on any torrent site. The entire exercise of finding the torrent and downloading the file would take less than 10 minutes.

Streaming is one format that got around the problem of downloading by not permitting the users to download the song at all. Songs, Spotify, Pandora, Beats and many other are taking varied approach to allow listeners to consume music. The issue with this format is that it does not have the strength to generate revenues the way downloading does. So the content gets consumed millions of times at a fraction of the revenue that downloads generate. Artists have been getting paltry cheques from the streaming companies and it does not make any sense to support this format.

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Music Artists as content creators are being hunted. Their ability to monetise their creation is being threatened. The need of the hour is a solution, but what might that be?

For a solution the Music Industry needs to look at the Film Industry. They are also content creators whose content is equally susceptible to piracy and hurt by the advent of the internet. You can just as easily find any movie on any torrent site. Why is it that the Film Industry does not seem to be in a state of turmoil?

The Film Industry uses this thing called ‘Windowing’.

A movie makes its money from various ‘Windows’. The first window is the Box Office, then the Cable Rights and then finally the rights to Internet and CD distribution. By the time the box office is done, the producers have recovered the production cost along with a sizeable profit, so the monetary losses that they take due to the copying and piracy of the digital format is not as hurtful to them.

The Music industry needs to come up with a format that allows them to rapidly monetise the initial buzz and excitement surrounding the release of their songs. They must not immediately make it available in digital format for everyone to download. It should be controlled through a Window that does not allow for easy copying. The moment digital content is downloaded, its as good as free. (Even Walter Issacson’s recent book ‘The Innovators’ is not available in e-book format).

Taylor Swift recently pulled her music from streaming site Spotify and netted a neat $12 Million in sales, causing a stir. I feel streaming is unfair to the artists, but letting people download is no better. Agreed, it allows for cash to flow in but the music is copied as quickly as well.

One possible format could use an event based release for the songs, where the musicians have control over the channel of release and listeners pay per use. Once the initial 6 months are monetised through such a channel, the next step can be to allow downloads before finally allowing streaming to take place. The essence of success is to delay the inevitable availability of the content in digital format. That is the best way to ensure that the content would be paid for and the artists can monetise the content that they have worked on.

Apple showed me how it cares

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Today, I had to transfer the contents on my old laptop to a new one. Fortunately both the laptops were Macs. About 5 years, back when all of my computing was still being done on windows; if such a situation had arisen, I would get a sinking feeling in my stomach because I was near certain to spend a good part of an entire day involved in the activity.

The typical work flow would involve the following:
Backing up all the existing files onto a drive (plus spring cleaning)
Install the OS (If it was not pre-installed)
Find and install all of the drivers the system requires
Setup all of the peripherals
Reconfigure all of the mails IDs and other such configurable things
Re-install all of the applications that you had
Copy the data back onto the system
Most importantly – Pray that it all works out as imagined!
I had developed a level of expertise in doing this, not because I used to buy a new system every now and then, but since Windows would never fail when it came to crashing. My last Windows laptop which I used must have been formatted 2 dozen times in 4 years.
So, safe to say, I was not really looking forward to learning this exercise with the Mac. In the past 3 years, I had never had any reason to screw around with the Operating System. The Mac just works!
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But I had to migrate my data to a new laptop since I had acquired a new Mac. Enter Migration Assistant. I had to backup my Mac using Time Machine and then just connect the new system to the backup and point the Application towards the correct backup. Voila! An hour later, I had my new Mac restored with all of the files, setting, applications, mailing configurations et al. It was ready to roll and took no effort from my part.
In fact today morning when I connected the system to the printer, the print window prompted me that some the print could not be processes because the printer software was missing. The system asked me if I wanted it to find and install the software and when I asked the system to go ahead, it went ahead found the drivers and installed it all by itself in a matter of seconds.
A month back I had to negotiate a Windows 8.1 system and the few moments that I did spend with it were not the happiest part of my day. It still made me jump through hoops finding various drivers and software needed to get the little things done.
This is a fine example of showing your customers, you care. Taking the pains out of a process that is known to inflict a lot of pain. The point here is not whether it is difficult or easy to device this, or if the Apple eco-system enables this to be done (Hardware + Software); the point is that someone cared enough to make it work. To take the friction out of the task so that I as the user could have a better experience.
When you care, it shows.