RIM to Turn BlackBerrys Into E-Wallets

RIM to Turn BlackBerrys Into E-Wallets

Research in Motion’s co-chief executive Jim Balsillie today said that it is integrating mobile-payment services into its BlackBerry devices, allowing users to make purchases with a swipe of their phone.

Speaking at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Balsillie said it is developing mobile payment technology, known as near-field communication, or NFC, that would allow BlackBerry users to swipe their phones to pay for goods.

“Many if not most of BlackBerry devices throughout the year will have NFC in them,” he said.

The move dovetails with RIM’s earlier announcement to allow T-Mobile, Vodafone and Telefonica customers to charge BlackBerry App World purchases to their monthly phone bill. But it isn’t the only company rushing to grab a share of what could be a $1.13 trillion mobile-payment market by 2014. Long-time rivals Google and Apple have been developing NFC services for launch later this year as well.

In December, Google bought Zetawire, a mobile-payment startup, foreshadowing the Internet giant’s interest in NFC.

“You’ll be able to walk into a store and do commerce,” said Eric Schmidt, Google’s chief executive at the time. “You’d bump for everything and eventually replace credit cards.”

Meanwhile, Apple will embed NFC service in its next-generation iPhone 5 and iPad 2, according to people familiar with the matter. The company has already created a prototype payment-terminal, which small businesses can use to scan NFC-enabled iPhones and iPads. Apple may heavily subsidize, or give away the terminals, to encourage widespread adoption of its mobile-payment play.

In addition, longtime payment stalwarts, such as credit card companies, financial banks, and even online payment service PayPal, are working on their own “e-wallet” technology. Verizon, AT&T and T-Mobile teamed up with Barclays and Discover Financial Services to challenge established rivals Visa and MasterCard, who are also pushing similar systems.

RIM’s NFC push, though welcomed, is not revolutionary, and rather, joins an increasingly-crowded group of capable tech giants, many of whom are working together with retails and distribution outlets to get a foothold in the burgeoning new market.

After seeing its market eroded by smartphone specialists Apple and Google, the BlackBerry maker now in a three-way tie for first with iOS and Android. Looking to turn around its fortunes, the company has been focusing on a successful launch of its new PlayBook tablet, as well as porting the operating system, known as QNX, to its smartphones, for a series of “super-phones” that function like tablets.


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