Congratulations, Mr. Jones. Bank of America has just shifted $10 into your son’s college fund.
It’s risky to predict the future — for instance if, in 1999, we had told you soon everyone would be fascinated by typing messages to strangers via telephones, you’d say we were nuts — but here goes. Money apps are the next big thing. Mobile phones, you see, are about to include near field communication signals that turn them into portable wallets, swipe-able near any cash register, and the money apps they hold will do to currency what digital photos did to Kodak film processing.
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Once anyone can beam funds into your electronic device, the definition of money will change, just as apps made the old-school Windows operating system obsolete. Think about this: How many apps do you have on your iPhone or Droid now? 50? And if the whim strikes you, would you download a dozen more? Of course. Apps are single-utility interfaces that help you easily check the weather, sports scores, and news, or better yet do things with photos, music, guitar tuning, and air-traffic control signals that you never could before.
Tell your friends you love the Ford Fiesta and unlock $5 in free fuel!
So what happens to money when you can do new things with it too — when electronic currency becomes as malleable as an iPhone icon? Imagine Talbots sending your wife more than a coupon — instead, $50 in hard cash, but usable only inside the Talbots Outlets stores. Groupon ain’t seen nothing yet when every retailer in the world learns to beam you currency redeemable in their retail aisles. And advertisers, of course, could buy your attention … or more insidiously send you funds on the condition you say things you don’t mean to your friends, like, gee, aren’t L.L. Bean khaki pants all the rage today?
Money has always had two utilities: storage tied to protected value, and motion tied to acceptance elsewhere. The mobilization of money on smart phones, tablets, or other portable devices will create a third value — the ability of influencers to shift funds to you immediately to direct your desired behavior. Any app could become a mini bank-vault, filled with value you unlock only if you jump through the next hoop. It will go beyond 50% off coupons — artificial discounts tied to some vague price-framing gimmick — because the money the influencers load onto your mobile gadget can be used anywhere, if you play their game. You think the points systems of Twitter followers or Facebook friends are addictive? Just wait until they include cold, hard cash.