The concept of making payments by mobile phone is not a new one. For years, articles and ads have heralded a bright, shiny future wherein we'll all be able to purchase soft drinks, gas, and other things with a wave of our phones instead of that "other plastic" (i.e. the trusty credit card). Initially, much of this payment technology revolved around RFID-type chips, but the iPhone offers other possibilities. Mercedes-Benz appears to be the first automaker to take advantage of them.
The company's financial services arm, Mercedes-Benz Financial, recently published a free app for the iPhone that offers a number of interesting features, including the ability for borrowers to check their account status, pay their monthly car note, and even get a payoff quote. Of course, the app has other elements that could appeal to a broader audience -- notably, updates on the company's product line and a GPS-enabled system that can locate the nearest Mercedes dealer. It'll even give directions.
This is a far cry better than Mercedes' "Silver Arrow" application we mentioned a couple of weeks ago, which was really just an underwhelming card game. In this case, MBF has created a practical app for iPhone users (as roughly 1/3 of Mercedes drivers are), which is also a very smart for the company's bottom line. As the web becomes more mobile, shifting from a computer-only communications medium to one that follows us on our phones, apps like this help companies stay in touch with customers. That's especially important for those in the financial services sector, since, generally speaking, the better the communications between lender and creditor, the better the chance that the lender will be repaid. We'll be very surprised if every other automaker doesn't follow in Mercedes-Benz's digital footsteps soon.