Your smartphone will one day replace your wallet, says an IBM engineer who helped to pioneer the original personal computer.
Mark Dean, IBM’s chief technology officer in the Middle East and Africa and based in Dubai, says mobile e-wallets are set to replace everything from cash and credit cards to your driving licence and paper passport.
“At some point your cellphone or handheld device will essentially replace your wallet,” said Mr Dean, who helped to design IBM’s first PC, which was introduced in 1981.
“This e-wallet approach is going to be one of the next big things. Everything that you carry in your wallet, including your driver’s licence, your passport, your credit cards, cash, pictures, receipts – that should exist in your cellphone. You really shouldn’t have to carry a wallet.” Mr Dean said growth in sales of the PC – which he helped to design – has hit a plateau, with other devices such as tablets now rising faster.
The smartphone is also an increasingly important technology and could give rise to a “cashless society”, he said.
While the e-wallet is more secure and can be instantly replaced when lost there is still some work to be done in convincing people of this, Mr Dean said.
“The security issues are definitely key, issues of privacy, the issues of capacity and of real-time interactions,” he said.
It is already possible to perform transactions with your smartphone. Etisalat last year demonstrated cashless payments using near-field communication technology.
Mr Dean said IBM was working on the behind-the-scenes technology, helping to bring the e-wallet into wider usage.
“Most of that work is global. But a lot of the discussions that we’re having are happening in these growth markets – in Africa, China and India – where the cellphone is the device of choice,” he said.
He declined to predict when the e-wallet would be in mass use but said the world was “ready to move to the next thing”.
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He was previously vice president of the IBM Almaden Research Centre in San Jose, California, where he oversaw more than 400 scientists and engineers.
IBM this month announced that it was opening a research lab in Kenya, its first in Africa and 12th worldwide.
The centre in Nairobi will conduct research focused on solving problems relevant to Africa, including issues such as water and transportation.
In the Middle East, IBM’s only research operation is located in Israel. But Mr Dean said the company has examined launching a research lab elsewhere.
“I can’t say whether we will put one in the Middle East or not. But I will say we have looked at it. Anything is possible … When the time is right, I’m sure it’s something that we are going to consider.”
In April, IBM opened an office in Qatar and says it will open more across the Middle East and Africa as part of a regional expansion plan.
“By 2015, we have committed to double our business … from where we were at the end of 2011, or early 2012,” said Mr Dean.
“We’re in 20 African countries currently, and by 2015 we expect to be in at least 40. You are going to see us add a significant amount of personnel in the region, both in the Middle East and in Africa.”
He said the region was one of the key growth markets for IBM.
“China, India and Brazil have already started down their path. The Middle East and Africa – especially Africa – is still emerging,” he said.
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