POPWings is a cool business card, but where is the platform?

UPDATED March 1st, 2013: See follow-up article.

I have been quite happy to hear a few weeks ago that Gemalto finally decided to consider NFC as more than secure services, by launching their POPWings service. I immediately ordered one of their business cards, excited to get a new NFC service.

So, I got a card with my blogger identity, and I scanned it with my Nexus S. This opened my Popwings page in the browser, showing my information. I was even able to link directly to my blog, open Twitter on my feed, everything was fine for a Web part.

Next step: download the application from the Play store. I just did that, and I have to admit that the feeling was not the same. I expected the application to do more than the simple link, and as far as I know, it doesn’t. OK, it will store locally my POPWings contacts, instead of showing them one by one. But as soon as I open this application, I am stuck in POPWings world. In particular, what hurts most is the inability to add this contact to my phone’s contacts. Let me be clear on this: it took me forever to get a contact database that will synchronize between my different accounts, and I definitely don’t want to change that.

It looks that POPWings is trying to deal with customers the Apple way: first, you buy a product from us, and then you are stuck in our ecosystem. That kinda works for Apple: I just got an iPod that I love as a device, but I hate Apple’s dysfunctional Windows software (disclosure: I am an Amazon fanboy for music, including the cloud player, and the primary reason for getting an iPod is the ultra lightweight form factor).

The problem with Popwings is not in the application, but in the philosophy behind it: it limits me rather than empowering me. I bought a new-generation business card, and what I got is a contactless smart card with my name on it, that doesn’t even work as a standard business card, since my contacts can’t easily put its content in their list of contacts.

UPDATED: Although the application is more open than I initially experienced, it still attempts to create a new and private ecosystem, which doesn’t seem to be the way to go. More on this in the update.

As you may have guessed, I wouldn’t bet on Popwings today, especially With the current application. Nevertheless, the idea remains good, and I would love to see it turn into a wildly successful ventures. Here are some suggestions:

  • Market to the end-user. Actually, Popwings got this one right: adoption will come to end-users, and the best way to force ourselves into making useful NFC applications is the need to convince them to buy our product.
  • Don’t lock the end-user. This is where Popwings fails. It would be so much better if it allowed me to add a contact to my contact list, or to interface it with other applications: the more, the merrier.
  • Encourage new uses. This is where Popwings can become a platform more than a mere application. By encouraging others to develop applications that leverage Popwings business cards or to integrate Popwings cards in their application, these NFC business cards can become a de facto standard, unlocking a huge market.
  • Focus on the platform, not the app. A first-year student can write can write the Popwings app, but it takes slghtly more effort to build a platform that correctly manages NFC business cards or other cards for use in Web/mobile applications.

My 2 cents.

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