Commerce Weekly: Bump taps mobile payments

Bump gets powered by PayPal and the payments world waits for Apple.

Here are some of the commerce items that caught my eye this week.

Bump taps into payments

A Bump in progressBump relaunched its service this week as a PayPal-powered person-to-person payment service. Bump has been around for a few years, offering a clever way to share data that looks, to the casual user, as if it’s transferring data locally from one device to another by bumping the two devices together. Is it using NFC? Infrared? Bluetooth? None of these, of course: Bump sends data through the cloud, locating the two sharing devices by their proximity and the reaction each device had to their bump. It seems pretty clever, as it enables virtual phone-to-phone transfers without having to wait on any assurance that the two phones share technology for syncing locally. As long as both phones can talk to the network — and would they be mobile phones if they couldn’t? — Bump can process the transfer.

The capability for payments has always been part of the plan, but until now Bump has promoted itself primarily as a way to share contact and other information. Payments is a far more compelling use, though what Bump is actually doing is just sharing emails and looping PayPal into the process — just as you would if you were paying someone by going to PayPal’s site from a laptop.

Still, how big can the market be for splitting the tab at dinner or sharing a tank of gas? The real upside for Bump must be in licensing its technology to other, more established payment processors, like PayPal. If you could Bump to pay at Home Depot or anywhere else where PayPal is accepted in the physical world, that would be simpler than having to key your mobile number into a keypad and faster than having to wait for a manufacturer to build NFC capabilities into your next phone.

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When will Apple enter the mobile payment race?

There’s an interesting guest column by Ramzi Yakob, a strategist at digital agency TH_NK, on Wired’s UK site about what mobile payments could do for Apple and (more importantly) what Apple could do for mobile payments. Yakob suggests that Apple is uniquely positioned to enter the increasingly crowded field of mobile payments — not exactly late, but not a first mover either — and reinvent it in its own image. What’s interesting is that, even though Apple is now, on some days at least, the world’s biggest company by market capitalization, Yakob notes that it isn’t Apple’s market might that gives it the power to enter and change industries:

“The position that Apple has now, not just financially but also within the hearts and minds of the modern consumer, gives it the perhaps unique ability to enter new sectors and make them ‘Apple’ in a way that feels completely natural to us — and by making them ‘Apple’, I mean, of course, beautiful, desirable, easy-to-use and hugely profitable.”

The post is worth a quick read. (As an interesting aside, to point out how lax credit card security and scrutiny are, Yakob points to his brother’s Tumblr where he shares pics of the ridiculous signatures he gets away with on restaurant tabs.)

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