Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Gemalto NFC Contactless Challenge: Day Two: Surviving an Entire Day on Contactless

I woke up to day two of the Gemalto Contactless Challenge, confident enough to start taking names. Okay, not really, but I was much more prepared than yesterday. Today my main task is to go the entire day only on contactless, meaning I will only be relying on the Gemalto issued Samsung Galaxy S3 for my breakfast, lunch, snacks, dinner and whatever else I require. Ewan was ahead and points were at stake. No more screw ups - I just have to get it right today!

Well no. The morning started with my quest to send Gemalto a postcard. I visited the Post Office on Farringdon Road and I immediately recognise the NFC card readers they have installed on the counters. Unfortunately for me and Gemalto, it appears that the postcards on display (and in fact every physical items sold in the store), can only be paid at the shop counter which is managed separately from the Post Office. This counter would only accept chip & pin, with a minimum of £5 spend. And the other Post Office in nearby Moorgate does not even sell postcards! Who would have thought sending a postcard in London would be so challenging? (In hindsight I was perhaps foolish for believing postcards would be widely available in none-touristy areas)

Irritated and hungry, I figured I could do with breakfast now, so I decided to pay my favourite coffee shops in Holborn a visit. The first was the delightfully name Department of Coffee & Social Affairs, part of the Coffeesmith chain of specialty coffee. Approaching as a 'researcher' again, I asked if they accept contactless. Despite the modern looking PDQ the barista was adamant they do not accept contactless payment.
Defeated once again I headed to Prufrock Coffee. The counter happened to be manned by World Barista Champion Gwilym Davies, who happens to be a London coffee hero to me (and many others). They acknowledged that they do accept contactless payments via cards, but not phones as they believed they required a different hardware to accept payments via phones. Still, I insisted on at least trying to pay via my phone and it worked!

I explained to Gwilym, who initially believed it to be something like "sticking your Oystercard to your phone", the benefits of having it on your phone rather than using a bog standard credit card in that it actually displays a confirmation screen on your phone. Gwilym thought that contactless payment technology is amazing, as traditional chip & pin is too slow for a coffee shop. As I have sip my coffee and compose a draft of this post, I wonder how many shops I have been who claimed they weren't able accept payment from my phone when they could!

In the time between brunch and my very late lunch at EAT on Lower Regent Street, I took the chance to visit the Museum of London. I have written a dedicated blog post detailing how the museum has integrated NFC technology with their exhibitions. During the rest of the day I also visited the Marks & Spencer: Simply Food store in Liverpool Street Railway Station to grab dinner and Pret A Manger outside the Museum of London for some snacks.

Oh, and I finally managed to locate a Post Office which sells postcards!
You can't see me but I was doing the happy bunny dance outside of this shot
Apart from buying lunch at EAT, where the payment till encountered a user error, the entire process of paying with contactless was painless and quick. It took roughly 10-20 seconds from tapping the terminals to being handed a receipt. The most user friendly contactless terminals are those installed at large chains like Pret A Manger, where they have dedicated and visible NFC terminals. Smaller independent merchants like Prufrock have to rely on their PDQ machines which contains both chip & pin and the NFC hardware, and these terminals tend to stay behind the counter where customers can't see them or easily tap them unless handed over to them. It is a usability issue that has to be addressed.

Also on my list to complete today was the 'Take the boat and travel in style on the River Thames' challenge. Despite successfully boarding the Thames Clipper at the Embankment Pier and alighting at the Bankside Pier, at both piers the ticketing booths were closed! There were no ticket sellers on board either! No doubt I will attempt again tomorrow and this time I will be boarding at a busier pier with an opened ticket booth, I promise!

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