Tuesday, 03 March 2015 22:15

Watch out: Optus will let you buy coffee with a watch

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A proof of concept sees Optus working with Visa, enabling a smartwatch linked with Apple or Android handsets to pay via the Cash by Optus app.

Cash by Optus is the company’s ‘contactless payment app’, powered by Visa payWave, which let you use a compatible Android smartphone (full list here, PDF Link) to pay for goods and services instead of using cash or plastic debit and credit cards.

However the next evolution of Cash by Optus is coming, and it will enable contactless payments across multiple platforms.

Using wearable technology, which means a smartwatch or connected wristband, it will add Apple smartphones to the current Android mix.

Optus says that payments can be made using only the wearable without the linked phone nearby, which would be handy if you’re wearing your wearable but, for whatever reason, don’t have your phone with you, or it’s flat.

However, when you get back in range of your phone, the connected watch and linked smartphone sync up via Bluetooth to update the account balance on the connected watch and transaction details on the linked phone.

Optus Mobile Marketing VP, Ben White said: “Optus was the first Australian telco to launch a mobile payments app late last year, which has received great feedback from our Android customers.

“The biggest frustration came from our iPhone customers who wanted to try Cash by Optus, but didn’t have a compatible phone. That’s why we’re developing this wearable technology, which is designed to work on both Apple and Android smartphones.

“We see huge opportunities in the wearable market by bringing new experiences to our customers through products that combine trusted technology with lifestyle benefits. Optus’ aim is to bring contactless payments to our entire customer base across lots of platforms.”

We last wrote about Cash by Optus when it launched in mid November 2014, which you can read about here

Using an NFC enabled SIM and Visa Paywave technology, the system lets you replace cash purchases below $100, and works ‘just like a Visa Prepaid debit card’.

You can put up to $500 onto the service, and to use it, you need one of the 110-and-growing compatible Android phones for now, that NFC enabled SIM card, and you need to be a post-paid Optus customer ‘on a monthly plan’ - with the list of Android phones having grown by 25 since launch.

Visa boasts in the Optus media release that Australians are ‘leading the world in their usage of contactless payments’, quote figures of 75 million Visa Paywave transactions in January 2015, with over 60% of face-to-face Vista transactions in Australia now made using Paywave.

Naturally, MasterCard has a similar system and can likely boast similar numbers, although Optus is only working with Visa, or at least, for the moment.

Visa’s head of emerging products and innovation, George Lawson said: “Australians have proven to be early adopters of new technology when it comes to payments. With Visa payWave so widely adopted, the right conditions are in place for a move to mobile Visa payWave and future devices like wearables.

“We’re excited to support Optus in its drive to provide a simple payment experience for its customers, across devices.”

Optus promises its ‘Cash by Optus’ service ‘will continue to evolve as compatibility with platforms, devices and systems grows’, and that ‘future applications of Cash by Optus could extend to the prepaid mobile market and to other sectors including public transport.’

Optus’ Ben White concludes by stating that “Optus is focused on bringing innovative products to market. The fast adoption of contactless payments combined with the high penetration of smartphones in Australia provide the ideal environment to foster next generation services.

“We want our customers to see their phones as a natural evolution to paying for goods and services anytime, anywhere.”

So, while the current Cash By Optus though your smart wearable device is ‘only’ a proof of concept today, Optus expects to release it to the public later this year.

OPINION:

Whether Optus can truly win the payments war in the face of Apple Pay, Samsung Pay, Google Wallet and contactless payment systems issued by banks is all yet to be seen, but for now, Optus is trying to cash up by cashing in on the smartphone contactless payments revolution, now adding wearables to the mix.

With a lot of cashed up competitors, Optus can’t ring this one in if it wants to succeed, but will have to go the long distance to continue collecting on whatever profit-sharing charges each transaction will presumably accrue to Optus on a long term basis.

So, if you’re an Optus post-paid customer and want to try the system out, you’ll still need cash, a credit card or a debit card for purchases over $100, but for everything else that can be purchased from a contactless payment terminal, there’s Cash By Optus, where you don’t follow the money, but the money follows you!


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Alex Zaharov-Reutt

One of Australia’s best-known technology journalists and consumer tech experts, Alex has appeared in his capacity as technology expert on all of Australia’s free-to-air and pay TV networks on all the major news and current affairs programs, on commercial and public radio, and technology, lifestyle and reality TV shows. Visit Alex at Twitter here.

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