Continuing what is quickly becoming a “Windows Phone is doomed” theme, Softcard this week revealed that it will soon “terminate” its Windows Phone tap and pay app. This is an inauspicious end to the only wireless mobile payment system available to Windows Phone in the United States and other markets. And Microsoft will need to step up quickly to close this gap.
The knee-jerk reaction here is to blame Google. After all, the search giant just announced that it was purchasing “some technology and intellectual property from Softcard,” which I describe in more detail the new story Google Makes Carrier Deals to Compete with Apple Pay. And most people assume that to mean “all of the relevant technology and intellectual property from Softcard,” or “what makes Softcard Softcard.” And since Google just freaking hates Microsoft, clearly it is behind this termination.
I don’t see it that way.
Instead, I blame Apple.
The success of Apple Pay has triggered a feeding frenzy in various circles. Wireless carriers don’t want a monoculture that’s not of their own making, so it behooves them to work with the leading mobile platform—Google’s Android—to develop another option. Indeed, this is why Softcard exists: back when Google’s and Apple’s (and, for that matter, Microsoft’s) mobile payment options were still gestating, Apple, T-Mobile (US) and Verizon—not exactly famous for partnering—got together and created Softcard in order to cut out the mobile platform makers. But once Apple Pay took off, it was game over: now they’re working with Google.
Softcard is/was a way to enable tap and pay on non-Apple mobile devices, meaning it supported both Android and Windows Phone. It combined a Secure Element-enabled SIM card, NFC and a Softcard mobile app to make it happen, so it was a bit of kludge in that it worked outside the built-in Wallet apps that are natively available in Android and Windows Phone.
However, because Google is buying “some technology and intellectual property from Softcard” and is partnering with AT&T, T-Mobile (US) and Verizon Wireless here in the US, that kludge will no longer be necessary. Softcard’s capabilities will now be available directly from Google Wallet on Android, and those carriers will ship new phones with these features enabled this year.
But what about Windows Phone?
When the Google/Softcard/wireless carriers deal was first announced, Softcard only said that “for now, Softcard customers can continue to tap and pay with the [Softcard] app” and promised an update in the coming weeks. That update came quite a bit quicker, and this week the company confirmed our fears.
“The Softcard for Windows Phone app will be terminated,” a Softcard FAQ notes. “A specific termination date will be provided soon.”
So once again, Windows Phone users are in the lurch. Despite launching a full-featured electronic wallet with tap to pay functionality in Windows Phone 8.0 back in 2012—yes, three long years ago—that functionality has never worked anywhere in the world except in France, and then only on the Orange network. Meanwhile, Apple raced ahead with Apple Pay, and now Google is making moves with Google Wallet and Softcard.
Microsoft, you need to do something and soon. And with Mobile World Congress happening next week, this is the ideal time to at least reassure Windows Phone fans that you are not going to ignore mobile payments. As you basically have since you added Wallet to Windows Phone 8 three years ago.