Silicon Beach: Wallets Are So Last Century, According to Paypal

The Future of Web Apps Miami conference took place this week bringing together geeks, developers, programmers, tech companies, investors and visionaries from all over the world to Miami Beach for three days of talks, workshops and, of course, parties.

Among talk of HTML 5, JQuery, app branding, startup strategies and much more, Paypal made a public announcement about mobile payments that will potentially change the way we pay for stuff.

In a talk titled "The Sky is the Limit," Osama Bedier, VP of Platforms and Mobile at Paypal, encouraged geeks to look into, a developer network that offers the tools necessary to integrate Paypal into mobile commerce apps.

Unless you've been living under a rock, you already know that Paypal has been developing e-commerce for the last ten years.  You've probably already used your Paypal account to pay for something on Ebay.  But the bells and whistles that make Paypal work have been secretly guarded, until last November, when Paypal launched  

"Today, we're making those tools that were only available to our in-house developers, available to outside developers working on mobile apps," explained Bedier during an interview after his presentation.

"Everybody wants to solve some payment problem or another," he continued.  "We're at FOWA because we have guys here who want to change the world. They're people who think big."

Thinking big today means recognizing that cash will eventually become obsolete. More people using smart phones means a shift in how we think of currency.  If you think this is crazy, don't forget that at some point in history, people used tea leaves as cash.

Companies like Obopay, for example, have already instituted mobile bank transactions for small merchants or for unbanked folks -- yes, some people who've messed up their credit so bad or are so hard up they can't even have bank accounts.

But even those who've got money to spare still need a seamless way to spend it. And besides, it costs money to make money.  "Cash and checks are inefficient," said Bedier.  "It actually cost more to make a penny than what the penny is worth."

What does this mean for you?  Some app on that mobile device you use to yap with your friends or sext your squeeze is going to make it easier to spend your hard-earned cash.  Developers will get busy in the coming months; expect to see some iPhone apps that use simple Paypal options to buy real goods from an iPhone.  Android capabilities are also in the works, according to Bedier.

Davide Di Cillo, a local iPhone app developer, is excited about the prospect of utilizing Paypal's tools.  "I always sold digital goods in the Apple app store," he told Silicon Beach during a coffee break at FOWA.  "But this will make it easier to design apps that sell actual physical products."

The topic of mobile payments also came up at the end of FOWA, when someone in the audience asked motivational speaker Gary Vaynerchuck a question:  "Mobile payments is the shit," said the geek in the audience. "What do you think about it?"

Vaynerchuck, a vanguard leader in selling wine through social media, didn't mince his words. He reached into his back jeans pocket, pulled out a bill and said unabashedly: "Cash is the biggest pain in the ass. George Jetson is going to happen."

Vaynerchuck may be onto something.  We all have an emotional relationship to money and may love the immediacy of it -- there's a reason why the scent of money wafts through the air conditioning ducts at casinos. But we're already used to plastic and in the mobile era, it may become gauche for some baller to whip up a thick wad of benjamins.  As the digital wallet continues to evolve, cold hard cash could very well become a vanity accessory.

For most people, it's the practical applications that matter most.  One example Bedier used in his talk was paying for parking meters through mobile phones.  "Who wants to carry around that many coins?" he asked.  Much to his surprise, yours truly told him we've got that covered in the City of Miami and Coral Gables.  But imagine if you could pay for any municipal parking spot in the county under one system (both cities use different payment services) without having to run back to your car when the meter runs out.  Every Miami-Dade County city would probably lose significant revenue in parking tickets.

Mobile payments services have a long way to go before they completely replace cash and plastic.  As Di Cillo put it: "It only works if all the merchants adopt the technology. The infrastructure would have to change."

But changing it is.  Watch out for it.

Paypal has some pretty lofty ambitions for its technology. Check it out at Change How We Pay.  Follow up on Future of Web Apps by searching the #fowa hashtag.  South Florida's Lori Todd provides an excellent recap on her blog.

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Miami native Maria de Los Angeles currently journeys in northern latitudes but is a correspondent for the Magic City. A community advocate, she pens stories about art, culture, good folks doing good things, women's issues, and only-in-Miami moments.