Yesterday morning in our Brooklyn office, we watched the Space Shuttle Enterprise make a lap around Manhattan in preparation for its final touchdown at JFK International, after which point the ship will be put out to stud aboard the U.S.S. Intrepid. It’s currently trending on Twitter, and surely countless smartphones captured photo and video as it made its last victory lap. It’s a fitting end for a space shuttle that never saw space, from an agency that is slowly winding down its manned space missions and moving toward leveraging private investment. That this symbol of the U.S. federal government’s technological prowess was filmed by tiny hand-held computers as it went away forever is just too perfect. We are a nation that would gladly shell out our own money for a space-age miniature computer that would have been literally unthinkable a decade prior, but collectively we refuse to give more tax dollars to the agency that could put a man on the moon at a time when our computers were as big as ranch homes.
Perhaps our problem is that we Americans are too quantity-driven as a culture. What’s the ROI on going to the Moon? Hard to put a price on the greatest technological achievement by humankind, but it’s a tendency we have, as Americans. So says Angela Natividad in her first piece for MyBankTracker, which documents her wild ride from college-aged booze-addled homeowner to relaxed, Parisian free-health-insurance-haver. She was technically successful in her early 20’s, by our rigid standards, but she found something she had been missing when she adopted a more Gallic lifestyle.
But still, the things our tiny hand-computers can do for us is staggering. This week, still more banks rolled out new mobile apps. Ally Bank, it came out on Friday, now has a mobile banking app. It allows customers to check balances, transfer money, view transaction history, and locate ATMs all in the palm of their hand. Ally Bank still owes the federal government $12 billion in TARP funds as of this January. NASA’s budget the year it landed a man on the moon, 1969, was $4.2 billion, which is $24 billion in inflation adjusted dollars.
ING Direct, the online bank, just rolled out its mobile check deposit feature, which will be a boon for customers who felt uneasy about going going completely branchless with their banking. Now, branches won’t be a concern, and you won’t have to mail checks off to Podunk, Iowa, to get the funds into your account. It’s called CheckMate, and there are some limits to it, but otherwise it’s a great deal for ING Direct customers.
Looming on the horizon, however, is the possible downside consumers may face due to Capital One’s acquisition of ING Direct. Capital One, it came out this week, is getting rid of its free checking accounts for customers within their retail footprint. Worse, they’ll be moving customers who don’t respond to their requests into the rather pricey Premier Rewards Checking account, which costs $15 a month. Be sure to read all the mail you get from your bank, and ING Direct customers: look out!
But even if your brilliant mobile phone exists in an era with no space shuttles, you might be able to use it with slightly slower forms of transportation. Yes, we’re talking city buses! That old symbol of style and elegance could be getting an upgrade soon. If your local transit authority is forward-thinking and innovative — hint: it isn’t! — you may soon be able to pay for a ride with your phone. At least in Boston, you can do so on the commuter rail. That’s exciting stuff, and a potentially transformative use for mobile payments.