For almost 11 years (since his public keynote address in November of 1994), Bill Gates has been describing a future where a cell phone like device will become an electronic Smart Wallet. Microsoft went so far as to produce a 30 minute video (contact me for copies at [email protected] ) that demonstrated the future of technology from an electronic wallet, to voice recognition, to Tivo systems in the home and virtual doctor consultations for EMT’s enroute to the hospital.

It was and is a great vision that holds up today, partially supported by the shear force that Microsoft can direct at realizing the vision.

The phone as electronic wallet concept is not far off. There are multiple technologies capable of making this a reality today.

They range from modified applications of PayPal to Mobil Pass technology with smart cards to an example that Motorola displayed at CES in January 2005, essentially a mobile phone concept with a smart card embedded such that you could pass the phone over a pad and it would pull the funds out of the account you designated in the phone.

I’ve been writing about the challenges and pitfalls of this concept and technology since early 2000.

Among other things to accomplish a digitization of cash into your cell phone, we’re literally talking about a technology that could eliminate the greenback.

Missing components or obstacles to overcome are as follows:
– Security and high levels of encryption
– improvements in the banking infrastructure (close but not there yet)
– ability to conduct anonymous transactions at small dollar levels (similar to exchanges of cash) !! Serious issues here that worry the Federal Government !!
– And maybe the largest issue – overcoming the status quo

Personally, I’m tired of waiting for this technology to arrive. I worked to push it when I worked for Motorola, years back. They focused but don’t have the drive and vision of Microsoft to see a project through that could displace portions of the Treasury department.

Japanese and Korean phone carriers have come up with a low tech method for creating a mobile wallet. Basically, they allow customers to purchase things, even trade stocks on their phone and the charges roll into their cell phone bill.

It gets the job done, but does not complete the vision that Bill offered, one in which your phone could manage your bank account, credit card account and investment account balances and transactions all from one device. Ergo, you go to Walmart, select the account in your phone that you want to use, a display of your balance or available credit will be presented, and you key in how much you want to pay or how much you want to accept as a charge . . . Presto Zappo your funds are transferred from your account to the Walmart’s vault in the depths of the Solomon gold mine, and that is that.

So to sum things up, I give bill an A- for vision (haven’t debated the authenticity of the vision), A+ for persistence to see the vision through, and a B+ for making it happen.

According to his vision in late 1994, this should been available in about 5 years, its early 2006, and its not here yet. In an article from years past, I described a far out scenario where Microsoft could essentially run the infrastructure that supports banking today. Now, this starts to cross into an arena where Bill Gates personal wealth could grow to a level that creates a blip on the GDP radar of the US. The question then becomes will the feds allow MS that much control to satisfy citizens around the world.

Disclaimer. I have a limit order in place to buy shares of Microsoft and Motorola stock. I am currently no holding shares in either corporation, but have off and on through the years.
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Gates Sketches Out Vision for the Future – Yahoo! News

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Written by: Brett Bumeter, President