Mobile computing is at a turning point, as the past few years have seen numerous improvements of the capacities of mobile devices. Here are a few of the main characteristics that have dramatically improved:
- Personal. Mobile phones are becoming some kind of personal hub, on which all communications means are concentrated, in particular around social networks. A teenager’s mobile phone is likely to be the electronic device she uses most throughout the day.
- Universal. Everybody has one. In some countries, this has been a reality for adults since a few years, but it has now expanded to most of the world, and in developed countries to most kids 10 years old and over. The trend is easy to see.
- Connected. By definition, a mobile phone is connected. Internet connections are becoming more and more common, almost universal in some regions of the world. And in other regions, the SMS medium is available and used for a wide variety of services.
- Generative. Mobile phones generate content, from pictures and audio/video recordings to positioning data and movement information. More sensors are added regularly, endlessly increasing the device’s awareness of its operating environment.
All of these features, when put together, make us realize that mobile devices are becoming ready to be used in our everyday life to establish a bridge between the real and the virtual world. As Google’s Eric Schmidt commented when discussing the addition of NFC connectivity to Android, “these things are so highly personal and (…) location-aware” that we now need to think “mobile first.”
What excites people like Eric Schmidt about mobile phones is the ability to accompany the consumer throughout the buying decision process, until the final transaction between a consumer and a merchant. This ability to conduct transactions in the real worldis the main difference between a mobile and a desktop.
And of course, as we start talking about transactions, money becomes involved, and trust becomes an issue for all stakeholders. If you consider Internet payments, banks and vendors have recently introduced additional verification methods in order to restore trust. Similarly, a significant percentage of Internet users remain afraid on shopping on Internet, often because they don’t want to disclose their credit card number.
The challenge for mobile trust is to address these issues better, designing a solution that allows the establishment between stakeholders, in a way that is trusted by all these stakeholders. This challenge is not an easy one, but some systems are emerging with partial solutions, that we can use to illustrate the design principles.
The first example is the M-Pesa mobile financial system used in Africa. It allows individuals to exchange money using their mobile phones in a very simple way, providing a financial infrastructure to countries in which banks are rare.
The second one is the Bump application, which allows two individuals to connect (or agree on a transaction’s terms) by simply bumping their phones together. This is a simple, straightforward technique, uses the generative capacity of a mobile to bridge the real and virtual worlds.
Now, here are the design principles:
- Make mobility matter in the real world. Mobile trust is not about simplifying the entry of credit card numbers by selecting a virtual card in a mobile wallet. It is about using the qualities of a mobile to establish trust between two individuals, like Bump does, or between an individual and a (local) service provider.
- Focus on the details of the actual service. Mobile banking is boring. Mobile money transfer between individuals already sounds better, and it sounds even better with the detailed description of a very simple mechanism, like the M-Pesa process. So, let’s be specific and work on the details of the user experience very early in the design process.
- Put the human at the center. Trust is essentially needed between humans, and the process necessarily involves humans. So the human must be at the center. First through the user experience, making sure that our service is usable, without cumbersome steps. Second through our brain and psychology, using our intelligence and intuition in the trust establishment process.
- Design around trust, not security. The essence of a transaction system is to establish the trust between two entities; the result is the trust relation, not the security. And we must always remember that the very definition of trust is to reduce the security measures once it is established.
- Build it securely. Last but not least, we need to deal with the implementation. That’s where security becomes important, making sure that we are able to build a system that matches our security assumptions. The main difficulty is here to correctly assess the level of risk, and to choose the security measures accordingly.
This is the recipe for success in mobile trust. All we need to do now is to define a list of ingredients, in order to bake a tasty and tangy mobile transaction service. Of course, we’ll also need to sell our produce, but that’s another story.