PowaTag, an innovative point and click mobile commerce app for iOS and Android, has launched in the UK and US with 240 leading retail brands on board, but the app creator has gone with low-energy Bluetooth Beacon technology rather than Near Field Communications (NFC).

The PowaTag solution enables consumers to purchase items immediately on their phone after seeing them in a shop window or on their television by opening the app, pointing the phone's camera at a picture of the item and clicking.

NFC requires the user to physically tap their handset on a transmitter to receive information, while low-energy Bluetooth can send information to devices that are up to 50 metres away, meaning you would never need to queue up to pay at a till again.

"There's a lot of resistance from merchants, the jury's still out on NFC. Apple has not put NFC into its phones and that's always been a problem for NFC as an adoption strategy. Will it be successful? Maybe, but I don't think so," Powa Technologies' CEO Dan Wagner tells IBTimes UK.

The product appears on the screen with a button that lets you purchase it, and for those worried about making payments on mobile devices, it's secure as no payment details are stored in the app – everything is secured in the PowaTag cloud, and the app can be wiped remotely by the user using a free PowaTag dashboard that will be launched soon.

Alternatively, "audio watermarks", i.e. audio waves carrying a unique data stream embedded in TV and radio commercials, can bring up charity aid relief donation options immediately when a disaster occurs, so people can donate on their phone right after seeing the commercial.

Saving the high street

If you're in a physical retailer's store like a car showroom or a clothes shop and need more information about the products, small "beacon" devices would be able to sense your phone and send you product information as well as special offers using low-energy Bluetooth Bluetooth beacon technology.

London-raised Wagner has had 15 years' experience in ecommerce, running platforms for major retailers such as Tesco, and has made his fortune through investing in various tech firms.

He sees PowaTag becoming a standard way to pay that will change the mobile shopping experience forever and help to save brick and motar high street shops, as a simplified payment process for the user can help both retailers and charities to capitalise on users' "impulse" to donate or to buy an item.

You could receive special offers on your phone while shopping with PowaTag
You could receive special offers on your phone while shopping with PowaTag

The big debate in the mobile industry of course, has been about which technology for contactless payments will triumph, and Wagner does not think that NFC could do the job.

"I think there are too many moving parts, too many disruptive technologies that make NFC too expensive and too difficult," he says.

"When you take a [low-energy Bluetooth] beacon and PowaTag, why do you need NFC? NFC is expensive to deploy. We can give you a beacon for $20 [£12], you can stick it under the table and there you are."

The problem with digital wallets

As explored in our piece "Apple's iBeacon Mobile Payment System Is Death Knell for NFC", Apple already has a huge advantage on everyone else as it already has 600 million consumers registered with iTunes accounts, meaning that it in theory has the biggest digital wallet service in the world and the best chance of getting users to make more payments on their devices.

Apple might not have NFC, but low-energy Bluetooth is already available on both iPhones and Android devices.

To increase the adoption rate of new technology, consumers need to see it around a lot, be educated on how to use it and find it easy to use. So far, this has not been the case with other digital wallet providers who have tried, explains Wagner.

"All the other wallet pretenders in the market – the initiatives from V.Me, MasterCard PayPass and Google Wallet have all failed because no merchants have been adopting them and consumers aren't downloading the app. There is a lot of vested interest in making something happen, but no one has so far been successful."

PowaTag might well have a chance though, as over 240 retailers, supermarkets and restaurants including Universal Music, Laura Ashley, Adidas and Burger King have signed up to provide PowaTag payment capabilities on their ecommerce sites and to educate users on downloading and using the apps, as well as over 40 major charities.

The solution requires 10-15 days to be integrated into the retailer's existing ecommerce platform so that the PowaTag symbol appears on product webpages and the technology is provided for free to charities.