About that summer launch of Isis, the mobile payment joint venture between Verizon, AT&T and T-Mobile — it’s not going to happen. The company told me that its plans to launch pilots in Salt Lake City and Austin, Texas, which could have still slipped in before the “official” end of summer on Sept. 21, are put on hold as it wraps up some last details. And there is no new launch timeframe to share though more details will be announced next month.
Ryan Hughes, Isis chief marketing officer told me that delays are not related to big infrastructure changes, strategy shifts or contracts to nail down. It’s about ensuring that the entire system is set to go for all the partners and that consumers will be ready to use their smartphones to pay on day one.
“While everyone wants to get to market quickly we’ve focused on getting it right from the beginning,” Hughes said. “It’s a complex project and we want to make sure the connective tissue of loading a card and using it and all the events around it are wrapped up.”
This might not be that surprising if you’ve been following the progress of Isis. As we wrote about before, Isis has been content to take its time with its rollout as it lines up a host of merchants, payments networks, banks, handset manufacturers and other partners. This is in contrast to rival Google Wallet, another NFC-based payment system that launched a year ago.
Hughes told me before that the company was always prepared to go slow as it learned the ropes. Isis hasn’t committed to any other launches beyond Salt Lake City and Austin.
So this delay may not represent much of a set back in the long run, especially considering there’s no big momentum behind Google Wallet or other mobile wallets such as PayPal’s or Pay With Square. Consumers haven’t been clamoring for Isis either, so there’s not too much danger of disappointing a lot of users. But the fact that it can’t hit a wide launch target like summer 2012 with just two pilot markets is still surprising. And Hughes wouldn’t even commit to launching by the end of this year. Also, delaying its launch means Isis won’t be able to get into the market and gain some valuable experience.
Isis is still well positioned to make a splash in mobile payments because it can push its payment system through its carrier partners. And I still think Isis has a good lineup of partners, including financial institutions Chase, Capital One, American Express and Barclaycard. Hughes said the partner response has been more positive than expected, which has added to Isis’ workload.
I’m no fan of delays but I think it makes sense for Isis to get it right at launch. Consumers have no big issues with cash and credit so Isis will need to tell a compelling story about why they want to adopt a mobile wallet-based payment system. Weeding out problems and ensuring the system works smoothly will help Isis communicate a clear message that mobile payments are real and have value. Let’s just hope we see Isis at some point soon. It’s still early in mobile payments, but you gotta get in the game at some point.