Jilted Snapper vies for Auckland's affections, seeks to recover up to $20m
Snapper is on a PR offensive against Auckland Council, using a highly orchestrated product launch today to take a swipe at the council's transport arm.
Auckland Transport gave Snapper the flick from its integrated ticketing project last month in favour of French company Thales, saying it was going to miss its November deadline.
Thales was originally awarded the contract in December 2009 but Snapper – owned by NZX-listed Infratil – had already gone ahead with its own system.
That meant there were effectively two separate systems which needed to be compatible with each other.
Auckland Transport says Snapper did not meet its compatibility obligations.
The Wellington-based company's CEO, Miki Szikszai, has been curiously absent from the media since the news broke that Snapper would be dumped.
At the time, he would not respond to requests by NBR ONLINE for an interview, instead passing on a statement from Snapper chairwoman Rhoda Phillippo.
However, he was present at today's lavishly-catered product launch at upmarket Kermadec seafood restaurant for a new mobile payment system, albeit flanked by Ms Phillippo and spin doctor Alison Horwood, an ex-New Zealand Herald reporter.
When asked if Snapper was pursuing legal action against Auckland Transport, Mr Szikszai would only say: "We're seeking the recovery of our costs." [UPDATE: Infratil later reported to the NZX comments by Mr Szikszai that the company would seek to recover between $10 million and $20 million].
This is the exact line which was given on a pre-prepared list of questions and answers about the ticketing issue given to journalists when they walked into today's product launch.
An obvious attempt to quell reporters' curiousity without actually having to answer questions, the list included questions such as: Why has Auckland Transport (AT) removed Snapper?
The answer: That's a question for AT.
It went on to reject Auckland Transport's claim that Snapper would miss the deadline, saying: That's not true. Snapper has delivered at every stage in the project so far.
While the media was given the chance to interview Mr Szikszai, his answers mainly echoed what was already written on the pre-prepared sheet.
Snapper may be trying to find favour with Auckland ratepayers – who are already footing a massive bill for the ticketing mess – hoping that would help its chances of recovering costs from Auckland Council.
New mobile payments system
The real purpose of today's event was to launch a mobile payments system, called Touch2Pay, into the Auckland market.
Mr Szikszai says there are already 300 retailers in Auckland on board and Snapper hopes it has made its technology simple enough to take it mainstream.
It has partnered with 2degrees and Australian company AB Note to develop the system, through which customers can wave their smartphone near a device at the point of sale to pay, eliminating the need to swipe an EFTPOS card.
Users can pre-load money on to their account, which the phone accesses via the phone's sim card.
The uptake, however, is limited by how many retailers choose to install Snapper equipment in their stores.
With just 300 retailers using the system now, there is seemingly little incentive for consumers to try it.
Also, the number of smartphones on the market supporting mobile payment technology – or Near Field Communication (NFC) – is relatively small.
Even the new iPhone 5, which is released on September 28, will not support NFC.
Snapper also does not know whether its technology will be compatible with the system its French rival Thales will be installing on Auckland's trains and buses.
However, Mr Szikszai says once the details of Thales' system is known Snapper can try to make its technology compatible with it.