Mobile wallet platform Isis, backed by AT&T, T-Mobile and Verizon here in the U.S., is kicking off its nationwide launch today, as previously planned. Alongside the launch, an updated version of the Isis mobile wallet application also hit the Google Play Store yesterday, with separate versions designed for each carrier’s supported smartphones. Isis says that today there are over 40 supported smartphones that work with the technology, and the carriers will give out free Isis-ready SIM cards to those whose phones are NFC-enabled and on the list.
The cross-carrier initiative has been in pilot testing in Salt Lake City and Austin for over a year, and has seen some changes during those trials. Initially, the service had planned to take a cut of transactions across its network, but now charges service fees to companies using the platform instead. Issuers including American Express, Chase, and Barclayscard had previously been supported Isis during tests, allowing consumers to load Visa, MasterCard, Amex and Discover cards into a virtual wallet app running on their NFC-enabled smartphones.
But today, Isis told us that American Express or Chase cards are supported. Amex Serve, American Express’ pre-paid card program with its own mobile application, is also supported, as are store loyalty cards and My Coke Rewards. When asked what happened to Barclayscard and Discover (which don’t get any website mention either), we’re told that “nothing has changed,” and Isis is continuing to work with both.
Isis has stumbled on its way to launch already - Capital One pulled out of pilot tests in September, which hints at challenges for the platform. The carriers have also generated negative sentiment among potential early adopters for the Isis platform by taking steps to block competing initiatives, like Google Wallet, from launching on NFC smartphones. There’s a narrow-mindedness there, since getting consumers onto Google Wallet would help to push the NFC agenda forward overall, and Isis could then compete on platform technology, user experience, and feature set, while getting more people familiar with NFC usage at point-of-sale.
The Isis app is currently poorly reviewed on Google Play (mainly from previous versions), with the AT&T version sporting one-and-a-half stars at the low-end and the T-Mobile version with two-and-a-half stars at the high-end. There are a number of complaints calling the app “useless,” “crap,” “garbage,” and Isis “greedy,” which does not bode well.
As of today, Isis will work at locations including Toys “R” Us, Jamba Juice, and some Coca-Cola vending machines, and there are promotions associated with those, including free drinks and 20% cash back on Amex Serve purchases through Jan. 31st up to $200.00. Other locations spotted on Isis’s locator service also include American Eagle Outfitters, Urban Outfitters, Duane Reade, CVS, Walgreens, Rite Aid, Office Depot, RadioShack, BP, Hess, and Sunoco gas stations, to name a few.
Because it was unclear to what extent these are nationwide launches (we spotted these locations by zooming around on a map), we reached out for more clarification. An Isis spokesperson says that retailers also include “Aeropostale, Foot Locker, Maverick, and many more,” and that “twenty-five of the top 100 national retailers have deployed or are deploying contactless terminals that support Isis.”
Notably, instead of offering hard numbers or forecasts about how many locations are Isis-ready nationwide, the official announcement only cited research claiming that there will be “hundreds of thousands” of locations in the U.S. that will have NFC-enabled payment terminals by the end of the year. The spokesperson essentially repeated this claim, saying Isis is supported at “hundreds of thousands of retail locations.”