The iPhone as money

As one might expect after a major Apple hardware announcement, questions of immediate concern flood our inboxes—what will this cost me over time, what new features does it bring, how much better is Doodad v2 than the Original Doodad? All valid concerns and ones that we routinely strive to address. But in regard to the iPhone 3G unveiled earlier this week, I’d like to look much farther into the future and examine what benefits the device and its descendants might bring.

What prompts this examination are two iPhone features that, while currently considered merely convenient, have the potential to change the way we obtain information, goods, and services. Those two features are the iPhone’s new location and communications protocols—WiFi, EDGE/3G, cell-tower triangulation, and GPS—and the existing iTunes WiFi Music Store.

Specifically, there’s incredible power in a device that knows where it is and that can purchase stuff based on its location.

We already have an example of this power in the form of iPhone-friendly Starbucks outlets. Walk into such a Starbucks and a new Starbucks entry appears within the phone’s iTunes application. Tap it and you can learn what’s recently been played in the store and then purchase one of these tracks simply by tapping a Buy button.

So, let’s move beyond Starbucks and forward in time to capabilities the iPhone could add a little farther down the line.

You’re just blown into town for a business trip and you’d like to eat somewhere other than in the hotel’s restaurant. You and your iPhone leave the hotel and stroll down Main Street. Tap the iPhone’s Local button and a screen appears featuring Shopping, Services, Restaurants, and Entertainment entries. Tap Restaurants and every eating establishment within a mile appears. Choose a cuisine, find a place that sounds interesting, tap its name, and its menu appears—complete with the day’s specials. Tap Reservation and the iPhone tells you if there’s a wait for a table. Tick off the items on the menu that you’d like and tap Order. Head to the restaurant. As you walk in the door, your iPhone tells the receptionist that you’re there and ready to be seated at the table reserved for you. Moments after you sit down your cocktail is delivered as, later, is your dinner. When you’re ready to leave, get up and go, your iPhone has already paid.

Or…

It’s 11 a.m. and time for your coffee break. Leave the office and stroll the 14 steps to the café next door. Your iPhone vibrates and asks if you’d like the usual double-wet cappuccino. Of course you do, so you tap Yes. Within a minute your name is called and you have your caffeine-rich libation in hand. Again, no cash or credit card necessary because your iPhone automatically picked up the tab.

Or…

Clothes.

Groceries.

Books.

Electronics.

Whatever.

The benefits to just about everyone save restaurant servers and retail clerks is obvious. Customers can learn about inventory and pricing before walking into a store, they can obtain what they want with ease, and they needn’t stand in line to pay for their purchases.

And Apple? How’s a penny a transaction sound? Put enough iPhones in pockets, establish and distribute the infrastructure to retail (with, of course, the promise of Minority Report-style push advertising), and Apple could be as successful in the financial space as it is in the music market.

All because of a mobile phone.

Just imagine.

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