Apple's Movie-Ticket-Purchase Move Has (Broken) Promise For Mobile Payments

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When Apple on Monday (Jan. 28) announced new features in its mobile OS—including what it described as "the ability to use Siri to purchase movie tickets in the U.S. through Fandango"—it seemed like the iPhone/iPad maker's first movement into mobile payments. Alas, no.

Turns out that the system doesn't give Siri (the phone's virtual assistant with comically bad voice recognition) the ability to purchase movie tickets at all. It simply does what it's always done, which is to find local movie showtimes. After that, it's up to the user to click and tap on options, which will eventually bring up the Fandango app (assuming the user has already installed it). That's more a marketing deal than IT magic.

But it does raise the question of why the app doesn't deliver the type of true integration that it promises. Why not enable movie tickets to be purchased—without leaving Siri—and charged to the user's iTunes account. If the customer has to create his/her own Fandango account, including keying in a payment card, where's the convenience advantage in that? We know that Apple is avoiding NFC, but why is it avoiding integration with its own iTunes? Wouldn't that be the most logical baby step to mobile payments?

Then again, giving something like Siri purchase power is frightening. Shoppers can—and do—tolerate Web pages that fail and require page refreshes to work correctly. And a failed graphic generates little more than a sigh. But a payment that is processed for the wrong amount—or charged twice—that's the stuff of cancelled accounts, ruined reputations and sometimes even legal action. Less severe for the shopper, but a disaster for the retailer is the opposite problem: a transaction that doesn't go through, meaning either that the product or the service isn't delivered (unhappy shopper) or that the product/service is delivered for free (unhappy shopkeeper).

Given that, Siri's legendary struggles with accuracy are not irrelevant. Even during our testing of this movie-ticket-buying feature, Siri repeatedly couldn't understand the name of a movie. When the film sought was Lincoln, it assumed we meant we wanted movie times in Lincoln, Neb. When we used the Apple suggested "buy tickets" to prompt Siri to launch Fandango, Siri—somewhat understandably—thought we were terminating the interaction, hearing "buy" as "bye." Other phrases were mangled without much logic. A search for Hansel and Gretel showtimes indicated that Siri thought we were asking about canceling Gretel. You don't even want to know what it did with Les Misérables.

Siri's fractured fairy tale version of voice recognition may be entertaining. But when it comes to giving it control of a Visa card or an iTunes account, maybe the idea of going slow has merit.