Our friends over at TechCrunch have been on a tear in the past year calling for an end to the archaic practice of handing out business cards and covering the companies trying to do it. I thought I would join them given how much I share their dislike for the practice. While there are many companies trying to solve this problem, I personally feel that Apple has the best shot. Before I explain why, a little bit of background:
What truly amazes me about business cards is that they have managed to exist for so long. At its core, the business card is merely an information distribution platform and an extremely inefficient one at that. The current solutions available are still not giving me what I want. They are either solutions that make the business card process less aggravating or they are “sandbox solutions” that only work with a limited set of users of a specific application, mobile device or web service.
The first set of solutions are not really solutions. They are not trying to eliminate the idea of the business card but rather make the digitization process less aggravating. The first wave were companies who created those desktop card scanners that would automatically import the contact information into your contact management app such as Outlook. The second wave are companies like CloudContacts that allow you to simply mail or scan business cards to their web based service while also providing a bunch of additional services. These are great time savers but they aren’t solutions that are serving to kill the mechanism itself. By making the digitization process easier, I might argue that they are actually prolonging the inevitable demise that business cards face – only making my agony last longer. Having been around since the 17th century, business cards are going to need something pretty compelling to kill them off once and for all.
The second group of solutions exchange contact information wirelessly but require both users to have a specific mobile application. I am an iPhone user so I’ve experimented with some of the solutions offered there including Friendbook and Bump. However, these applications require both users to have the application and in some cases have the same phone depending on the apps availability across multiple mobile phones. Given these constraints, I don’t ever see them gaining mass adoption and dethroning the business card.
The third group of solutions are web services like My Name is E and Poken that don’t require a special application to be installed on your mobile phone. Instead, they are web based services that allow you to share contact information and social network profiles with much more granularity. However, these services require that both people are members of the service. Both companies also offer a special dongle that can transfer contact information in a matter of seconds. Again, this is only useful if everyone has the dongle. While this is great if handed out at tradeshows or events, it would require mass adoption to be useful in the real world.
This is why I am calling for Apple to lead the way by developing an open standard for wireless contact exchange and building it into the iPhone OS. The optimal solution should require nothing more than your mobile phone – no proprietary 3rd party software, hardware or web account. The standard should be open and built right into the OS of all phones. It shouldn’t have to rely on cellular or wireless connectivity to work. It should create an ad-hoc bluetooth based peer-to-peer network to conduct the transfer. This would allow the mechanism to work on a plane for example. If Apple built this functionality into the iPhone I can guarantee that this somewhat obscure practice of wireless contact sharing would take off. Apple has a way of making something that used to be difficult extremely easy. Just look at mobile uploads to YouTube for example. In only one week after the release of the iPhone 3GS, mobile uploads to YouTube increased 400%.
Just to be clear, I’m not calling for a wireless contact mechanism for simply the iPhone but rather for Apple to lead the way. I think that they have the the user base and popularity to build a mechanism that the “average person” would adopt. I am simply looking for Apple to create the necessary momentum for the technology so that other mobile phone manufacturers would be inclined to integrate the standard into their devices as well.
So if Apple is listening, please help us to kill the business card. I believe your leadership can turn the tides. Apple was part of the original consortium who developed the vCard back in 1995 and it’s time for them to step up to the plate again and lead the way in developing a wireless contact transfer standard.