Invisible, Weightless Money

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The exchange of money has developed in numerous ways over human history. At one point, people traded clay tablets which signified an amount of crops to be paid at the end of the season. Eventually, coins became popular. Then came paper currency and in the past fifty years credit cards. The general trend has been to make transactions as simple and weightless as possible. Recently, the race has begun to make money completely weightless, using today’s and tomorrow’s technology to make it happen.

One method being implemented is payment using smartphones or portable chips on rings or cards with Near Field Communication (NFC). This allows people to tap smartphones against a terminal through a contactless transaction to make a payment. The good news: most new phones (not iPhones) already have NFC technology. To take advantage of NFC payments, a person just has to set up a virtual wallet with a service like Google Wallet. iPhone users that can’t use NFC because they don’t have the hardware necessary in their phone can use other options like the Square Wallet app that doesn’t require a physical tap. The idea is that in today’s world a wallet won’t be necessary anymore, because most people already walk around with smartphones which can just as easily serve as wallets.

Another recent development is the use of virtual money like Bitcoins. Bitcoins is a currency that exists solely in digital format, and can exist on anything that can hold digital memory. This could take a long time to be used commonly by people because at the moment Bitcoin transactions are too complicated for most to understand. They will probably never be used widely beyond investments or transactions for illegal goods, because like cash, Bitcoins cannot be traced. Unlike cash, they have the potential to be transferred online across the globe. Also, because Bitcoins aren’t controlled by any central bank, the value of a Bitcoin fluctuates in large amounts which might turn consumers away. As I write this post, the value of a Bitcoin is at 350 USD, but it could drop back down to 250 tomorrow.

There are a few hurdles that must be crossed before the use of these new technologies becomes widely accepted. First, one of the major concerns with being dependent on virtual currency is security. Anything that is digital and connected can be hacked. If there is anything that people like to keep more secure than anything else, for good reason, it’s money. Additionally, using these new technologies has to be introduced into the common consumer’s habits, which may be difficult considering how attached many are to their credit cards. Old habits die hard. However, I have faith that in the next ten years many of those currently using credit cards will be using alternative forms of payment. But, If the credit card users don’t convert, the new generation of consumers will probably swoop in to pick up the invisible payment market. People questioned the introduction of the credit card half a century ago. Plastic to invisible shouldn’t be too big of a leap now.

Fairphone, a Supply Chain Revolution

If you’ve ever looked inside a computer or even seen a picture of what’s inside, you’ve seen the intricate jigsaw of metals that somehow end up being compiled into computer. The metals that allow your computer to run, as you may imagine, aren’t the ordinary metals that we use to build bridges and manufacture abstract furniture. In fact, they are quite the contrary. The precious metals that are necessary for you to send an email or watch a movie are extremely difficult to obtain, especially in the large amounts that companies like Apple, Dell, and Samsung need them. So, these companies go to almost any extent they can to get them. Often, this means crossing socially unethical boundaries that may deter you from buying their products. Some examples are child labor, and trading with warlords. You probably don’t want to be a part of this. Unfortunatly, the truth is, its pretty much impossible to find electronicts that don’t have a dark back story. That is, unless you’re in the market for a new phone.

In 2010, the Waag Society began a project to tackle the issue of making a globally just phone. One that, for example, isn’t funding wars in the DRC. Three years later, the Fairphone has entered production. It is truly a supply chain revolution. The Fairphone runs on Android, and is created completely under the goal of setting social values first, while maintaining the quality of a successful product. The project has been funded partially through crowdfunding and aims to redefine the global supply chain. This means ethical sourcing, improving working conditions, and working on using recycling materials.

So far, 20,000 Fairphones have been produced, over 11,000 sold. Obviously, this is only a glimpse of the market compared to the millions of other phones and computers that are being sold, but its a great start.

Fairphone: Buy a phone, start a movement from Fairphone on Vimeo.

The Heated Smartphone Race for Third Place

thirdquestionIn the smartphone market, not everybody is fighting for first place. In fact, not even second. Currently, Samsung and Apple lead the mobile market in first and second, respectively. This makes third the only place left to fight for this heated Smartphone race.

Who’s in the race? This is a long list, since no company has made a clear step ahead of anyone else. Here’s the list of who I think can be innovative enough to take third place :

  • Blackberry: With their newest phone, the Z10, they have a brand new chance to grab the corporate market again, which has been leaving their grip over the last couple of years. They have also made their device more consumer friendly, a big issue previously. This rebirth of Blackberry gives them a good chance at third.
  • Nokia: Nokia has been fighting hard to make Windows Phones big. They are hoping their commitment to Microsofts platform will make them unique, and stand out in the crowd. Maybe, Windows Phone is the key to third.
  • HTC: With a few great new Android smartphones, they have a lot of potential to take their piece of the market. Phones such as the Droid DNA and the upcoming HTC One are extremely catchy to the eye, and will make a big impact.
  • Huawei: The current third, although barely, is making a name for itself. Out of China, it is unknown to many. Its’ fresh phone designs, and global presence, are promising.

Although there are other companies, such as Sony, ZTE, Lenovo, and LG that have similar sales, they aren’t being as innovative or as unique as the companies in the list above. Truly, however, anyone can get third. Whoever does end up claiming third place, I hope they take a stab at Samsung and Apple, putting the industry into a frenzy of innovation.