Talking tech since 2003

When the Apple iPhone was first released in 2007, one of the greatest features it sported (it was a first generation product, mind you) was the integrated “iPod” application which allowed users to store, carry, and listen to music just like Apple’s famed iPod music player.  While I cannot find the story or video for the life of me now, I distinctively remember seeing a gentleman discuss the fact that his iPhone actually replaced his iPod, freeing up more room in his pocket.  And while this is really a corny “feature”, one cannot help but realize that the modernization of mobile phone technology – not only with the iPhone, but with other platforms as well has made our handheld device incredibly powerful and versatile.  For many, this has indeed eliminated the need to carry separate devices for different tasks.  But for those of us who live, breathe, and sleep technology the question remains; how long until mobile devices are able to replace our wallets?  How about our keys?

And really, the thought concept really isn’t all that far out.  Many people have recently been discussing the future of RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) and its potential to revolutionize retail payment processing.  At core, the technology is actually very simple, involving a point-of-sale machine reading a small signal omitted from a customer’s mobile phone in order to access pre-defined payment information to complete the transaction.  Sure, there’s a bit of criticism towards the idea and there aren’t all that many folks on board just yet, but the technology is already there and is even being implemented in some large chain-stores as part of a testing process.  However, with patents having surfaced earlier this year, many believe that the next generation iPhone (dubbed the iPhone 5) will be the first major consumer device to feature RFID technology.

What does this mean?  Off the bat millions upon millions of Apple customers would be purchasing devices featuring the new technology.  Even though I highly doubt users will be able to able to rid themselves of their wallets like they did their iPods back in 2007, this would definitely be a big step for RFID technology simply because of the amount of users that would suddenly have access to the hardware necessary to potentially begin using RFID.  If Apple does indeed implement this feature, I’m sure that they will be able to invoke yet another innovation in the mobile market and will be able to successfully take the RFID concept mainstream for the first time; and other manufacturers will surely follow suit.

Once RFID becomes popular, I predict that it will be impossible to stop.  Unlike those dumb “Tap and Go” systems that Visa introduced a few years back, I think that RFID payments will catch on like wildfire amongst users who carry their mobile devices with them everywhere they go.

Of course mobile devices have the ability to replace our wallets in more ways than one, and in a sense already are.  Last year we began seeing a mobile applications aimed at giving users access to money-saving coupons directly from their handheld devices; no clipping or effort required.  Combine this with apps that allow us to replace all of those pesky club cards for various stores and chains with a single organized application that can be scanned at checkout and one can see where mobile phones are replacing our wallets and key chains today.  Can you imagine what the future will hold?

Bay Area Rapid Transportation (BART) has even made it simple for riders to purchase anything from tickets to sandwiches using their supported RFID-enabled phones.  Really, the technology is spreading everywhere already and it hasn’t even made it off the ground yet.

But a technology innovation wouldn’t be of any importance if it simply brought us up to par with existing mechanisms, now would it?  Of course not.  But what if this stream of innovation could kill two birds with one stone and help eliminate the issues with password security?  That, my friends, would be a truly noteworthy improvement.

As I’m sure you already know, passwords are a big issue.  No matter how much we explain the importance of creating strong passwords (time and time again), the sad reality is that passwords are still passwords and are still vulnerable to being cracked or hacked; even if it is at the fault of the end-user.  This is where two-factor authentication, a practice that has been used by banks and other entities dealing with sensitive data for some time now.  But instead of using “old school” rotating code key cards and key chains, two-factor authentication is making a big comeback in the form of mobile phone applications.

You see, services like Gmail (Google Accounts) now allow for end-users to send an authentication code to their devices (or generate a pre-defined one using an offline app) during the login process, requiring an individual to have access to a physical hardware device before successfully signing in.  Beautiful concept, isn’t it?  And Google’s not the only one doing it.  Services like PayPal and even games like World of Warcraft allow users to do the same thing, all whilst using their mobile phones.

So be it new concepts like RFID or be it age-old concepts, mobile phones have a great deal of potential for not only simplify our lives, but protect our security and privacy as well.  And as I’ve said, we’re only getting started.

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