Isis Revamps Its Mobile Wallet And It's Actually Fixing What's Broken

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The news that Isis is working on a new and improved app for its mobile-payments system is a good sign, though maybe not for the reasons Isis wants it to be. According to NFC Times, the new version of the app will be created by a hot Austin startup, Mutual Mobile, to replace the original version developed by mobile-wallet specialist C-SAM.

OK, switching to an app developer that's never done a mobile wallet doesn't sound so good. Neither do the only numbers that anyone has yet released on Isis use: only 600 Isis-taps per day on Salt Lake City's transit system, out of 150,000 daily rides, and that's even with Isis giving its users a free ride. Nor do the terrible reviews Isis has gotten since it finally launched in October.

That good sign? As badly broken as its system may be, Isis is trying to fix what's actually broken.

Officially, Isis admits nothing. But the NFC Times report describes an Isis Mobile Wallet 2.0 that will have quicker response, smoother performance and a simpler design. Only the app will be handled by Mutual Mobile; the experienced C-SAM will reportedly continue to run the back-end payment servers. The plan is for the new app to roll out by the end of September.

The current Isis app clearly isn't making users happy. As one reviewer described the problems: "Three out of five times it freezes on the PIN screen and needs to be restarted. One out of five times, it just won't open and needs to be forced closed to work. Randomly, [it] says it can't access the Secure Element and the whole phone needs to restart to make it work." Development delays also reportedly were among the reasons the Isis launch was delayed last year.

And in a mobile wallet sweepstakes where Starbucks is way out in front of any other system in actual use and PayPal is at least managing to get customers to use its system with a magstripe plastic card, Isis can't even convince more than a few hundred commuters to accept a free bus or train ride for using its mobile wallet.

Bluntly, that's awful. Amazingly, for once, Isis is fixing what's broken—an app that's cumbersome and unreliable—instead of adding new CRM-oriented features in hopes of that getting people to start using it.

Somebody within Isis has decided that, even if the public position is still that the mobile wallet is great and just needs a little more time to catch on, in reality the wallet isn't fine and never will be until it's retooled.

That's not rocket science. But it's also not something we ever expected to see.

Of course, just because Isis adds a new front end that's prettier and more reliable doesn't mean lots of customers will start using it. There's still much work to do on getting Isis merchants to push mobile payments and selling customers on the advantages of pay-by-tap—as well as reducing the number of hoops customers have to jump through just to get an Isis wallet in the first place.

But it does mean customers won't be driven away by a mobile wallet that doesn't get the basics right. That's a start.