Apple’s latest move to increase services revenue

Yesterday, Bloomberg reported that Apple made a very interesting acquisition of Mobeewave, a fintech startup, for an alleged amount of $100 million. From Bloomberg

Mobeewave’s technology lets shoppers tap their credit card or smartphone on another phone to process a payment. The system works with an app and doesn’t require hardware beyond a Near Field Communications, or NFC, chip, which iPhones have included since 2014.

The Cupertino, California-based technology giant paid about $100 million for the startup, one of the people said. Mobeewave had dozens of employees, and Apple has retained the team, which continues to work out of Montreal, according to the people familiar. They asked not to be identified discussing a private transaction.

What does Mobeewave do?

Mobeewave is a Canadian startup whose technology enables merchants to accept mobile-based contactless payment by just tapping customer contactless credit/debit cards or wallets such as Apple/Samsung Pay on the back of an NFC-enabled device such as iPhone. In partnership with Mobeewave, Samsung launched Samsung POS in Canada in 2019. Participating merchants only needed to download the Samsung POS app onto their phones and go through a quick sign-up process for immediate use of the service. Here is how Samsung POS works:

Benefits from this kind of service include secure payments, reduced costs for merchants and enhanced user experiences. These benefits are particularly attractive to micro merchants such as street artists, small restaurant owners, flee market vendors or delivery drivers to whom every saving is critical. As contactless payments become increasingly popular around the globe, there is a lot of adoption opportunity for technology like Mobeewave’s. In June, Visa report that excluding the US, 60% of global face-to-face transactions were tap-to-pay. In the US, Visa had 190 million tap-to-pay credit cards with the goal of having 300 million by the end of the year. From the merchant side, 80 out of the top 100 enabled tap to pay. Covid-19 aided the adoption of contactless payments and even when the pandemic blows over, I can see that the new trend will be here to stay.

In Canada, Australia and European countries, contactless payments are capped. In Canada, the cap amount is around $CAD 250 while that in Europe is usually €50 EUR, according to Mastercard. In Europe, banks are required to prompt a PIN request when 1) after a customer has five contactless payments or 2) payments total €150 EUR. Though the requirements are aimed to bolster security, they present additional user experience, investment in hardware and security challenges.

What to expect from Mobeewave in terms of security

Mobeewave’s solutions do address the security challenges across markets, including EU. But the most innovation and exciting solution from the startup is the Mobeewave Limitless, which leverages 3D Secure 2.0, a new security standard used for online transactions. With Mobeewave Limitless, a cap on payments as well as a PIN entry are removed. Also, the chargeback and fraud liability are shifted to card issuers, away from merchants.

PIN entry on a consumer off the shelf (COTS) device can present a number of issues when needing to make a high value purchase. Our Mobeewave Limitless™ solution eliminates all of these while shifting the liability of the transaction away from the merchant. With Mobeewave Limitless™, we combine risk mitigation best practices of both card not present and card present technologies…

Eran Hollander, EVP Product at Mobeewave – Per Financial IT

What does it mean for Apple?

Personally, I had some difficulties with Apple Pay at stores in Omaha in the past. For whatever reasons, my attempt to pay with Apple Pay sometimes failed and it wasn’t a nice experience, especially when you left your credit card and wallet home thinking that your iPhone should be sufficient. The acquisition of Mobeewave, I think, will not change much the flow of how a customer uses Apple Pay. If anything, I hope that the technology will make every NFC-equipped device a more reliable POS than the current hardware available on the market.

I think this is a play to increase the Total Addressable Market (TAM) and services revenue for Apple. Reportedly, there are 25 million micro merchants and 5 million merchants in the world. There will be a small cut for Apple for providing this technology to merchants. Even at 0.01% of a transaction value, millions of transactions can result in a nice additional revenue source for Apple. While big name retailers can be a potentially massive market, there are a few operational challenges and quirks to figure out. I don’t expect Apple will reach this kind of market any time soon. If how Apple usually rolls out its products, services and updates teaches me anything, it may take one or two years before we can see Mobeewave available in countries.

Even though Mobeewave technology is available on Android, I won’t be surprised that in the future it will not be. Restricting the technology to only iOS will contract the TAM, but making it available to other app stores presents some challenges: 1/ will Apple create an app that works well on every both iOS, Windows and Android, and maintain it? and 2/ Apple is notoriously known for wanting to keep an iron grip on total user experience. Lending Mobeewave’s technology to other phone manufacturers may not make sense from this perspective.

Apple’s M&A success is something that, in my opinion, goes under the radar quite a bit. They have been pretty successful so far as CNBC noted:

Cook bolstered his point: “An example of that was Touch ID. We bought a company that accelerated a Touch ID at a point.”

There are other examples, too: In 2017, Apple bought Workflow, an automation app, which is now the Shortcuts app built into iPhones. In 2018, it bought Texture, a digital magazine subscription service, which is now the basis of Apple News+. The Animoji avatars users can drop into texts came out of the 2015 acquisition of FaceShift. Siri was the product of an acquisition. Apple’s industry-leading mobile chips are a direct result of the 2008 purchase of P.A. Semi.

Other deals were for companies that are closer to being competitors to Apple. In 2017, Apple bought Beddit, a hardware sleep tracker from Finland. Apple still sells Beddits, and even updated the hardware, but they had a lot of features removed in 2019, and Apple will add sleep tracking as a feature in its latest Apple Watch software this fall.

In short, I see a lot of potential and good things out of this acquisition and am excited to see how it will pan out in the future.

Disclaimer: I own Apple stocks in my personal portfolio.

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