A few weeks ago I wrote about my first impressions of Orange Quick Tap, which uses phones enabled with near field communication (NFC) to pay for things. Now I've actually had a chance to use the device — more on that later — I can finally give my views of the product as an ordinary customer.
To begin with, it's worth noting that the Samsung Tocco Lite Quick Tap phone is not widely available in stores. When I tried to buy one, Orange stores in Slough, Uxbridge and Reading weren't stocking it. Indeed, marketing seems very thin on the high street. The only advertisement I've spotted is an adaptation of the Barclaycard contactless payment commercial on TV, which shows a man riding a roller-coaster to work. For the new version, instead of swiping his card, he swipes a Tocco Lite phone.
Perhaps Orange has a small quantity of Quick Tap handsets, and rather than being overly bullish in its marketing campaign, it's taking things quietly. This would make sense, given that there's only one model in the Quick Tap range. A low-key start might also let Orange iron out glitches without attracting too much exposure.
I finally tracked down (and bought) an NFC-enabled Tocco Lite. Inside the box was the phone, the usual set of accessories, and six cards with NFC chips in them. These are a great way to practice tapping the phone against an enabled item. Doing so on each card opens the card's individual content. There's no need to open an application because it does so automatically whatever state the phone's in. For example, tap the phone against a certain card and a link to the Orange news page on the Web springs to life on the screen. It's fast and easy, and definitely impressive. So far, so good.
On to activating the Quick Tap Wallet. First I had to open the Orange Quick Tap Web site on a computer and register for a mybarclaycard account. I didn't see an option to use a Barclays debit card or an Orange credit card, although the service claims to support these options. Then, I had to set up a username and pass code, enter the phone and SIM number, and then another security word. Lastly, a five-digit activation number appeared on the computer browser. This had to be entered into the phone and another PIN had to be set up. The process took about 15 minutes in total.
I'm not complaining about the amount of time it takes to activate the service. I think most customers will be prepared to invest time in doing so, as they've already decided to pay an extra £10 for an NFC-enabled version of the Tocco Lite. The stringent security process assures customers that their bank details and transactions are safe. However, some customers will find their patience tested by the fact that you have to use a separate computer and revert to the phone while dealing with two passwords and three PIN codes.
Once the system's up and running, it's time to go. Within the Quick Tap Wallet application is a link to a Web site developed by Kilrush Digital. It searches for the location of retailers that accept NFC-based payments, and uses the phone's GPS data to find nearby outlets. It's a fairly smart concept that integrates well with the service.
I was in central London, and the phone was showing an Eat restaurant outside Chancery Lane station, so I decided to give it a go. Entering the place, I found four Barclaycard contactless point-of-sale terminals. I was spoilt for choice. But as I waved my phone over the terminal after ordering my food, nothing happened. It seems that unlike the NFC-enabled cards provided in the box, the payment terminals require the Quick Tap Wallet app to be opened first. And I have to enter yet another PIN code every time I make a transaction. As people began to queue behind me, I decided to pay with cash.
Each time I activate the Quick Tap Wallet to make a payment, I get 30 seconds to make the transaction, shown on an on-screen timer. Although the countdown can be extended, it's sometimes tricky guessing how quickly I'll reach the front of a line of people. The point-of-sale terminal has to be activated in the same way, so it can be an unnerving experience trying to match the timings of both devices as I try to pay for things.
I've also been to three retailers in Slough that are supposed to support the Quick Tap service, but it's not worked in any of them. Two of them were large chains — Krispy Kreme and Subway. Perhaps they only support the original Barclaycard contactless payment option, but that should be no excuse, as Quick Tap is simply an extension of this service that uses the same infrastructure.
As for the Samsung Tocco Lite, I question the suitability of the device for a mobile payment service. It's a popular phone on prepay, but its low hardware specifications, in particular the resistive touch screen, mean it's not an easy phone to use the Quick Tap application on. If Orange wants to improve usability, it needs a more advanced Quick Tap smartphone.
It's a pity I've had such poor experiences, as I really wanted to like the service. But it's still very early days. Orange is expected to add more phones to the Quick Tap range, and last month at Mobile Money Summit 2011, the operator announced plans for Quick Tap to go international. Users in the UK will soon be able to use the service in Nice, France. If anything, Orange ought to be commended for making the first big step into a market that has been so heavily hyped but proved so inactive.
However, for a brand new mobile money service that promises to replace your ordinary wallet, I'm still not convinced about Quick Tap. For now, I'd prefer to use my normal credit card. My fear is that if other users share my opinion, the brand will suffer heavily. That will dent Quick Tap's image at a time when customer reactions are much more sensitive. Orange will need to double its efforts if it's to convince sceptics like me.