By Shadoe Huard

June 3rd 2011

TUAW Gets a Redesign

Seems inspired by this.

Or maybe this.

Or this.

I guess this is their “laser like” way of trying to prove to Apple they’re legit enough to get press passes now.

Posted at 12:02am and tagged with: tech, tuaw, one column, apple, blog,.

June 1st 2011

Engadget's Review of the New Nook Wi-Fi

Brian Heater:

The new Nook is a bit of an enigma, in a sense, simultaneously adding more features while attempting to return to the simple reading experience missing from tablets like the iPad and Nook Color. It succeeds on both accounts. All of the new features enhance rather than detract from the goal of reading, and they’re there when you want them and mostly invisible when you don’t. The social functions are about reading and reading alone — if you’re looking for a place to play Words with Friends, look elsewhere.

The industry — save for Sony — has seemingly settled on a price point for simple e-readers, and at $139, the Nook fits right in, priced the same as the Kindle and $10 more than the 1GB Kobo.

Guess that’s on par with what I was thinking:

They worked out the kinks and now the Nook gets it right in the places that matter: Size, battery life, ease of use and price.  Amazon is going to have it’s work cut out for them.

Even for an iPad owner, these devices are starting to be seriously attractive.

Posted at 4:48pm and tagged with: barnes, noble, one column, nook, amazon, kindle, tech, ereader, books, novel, literature,.

June 1st 2011

GTD Gets in the Way

Stephen Hackett, over at Forkbombr, on OmniFocus and GTD guilt.

For example, last week, I was working on a strategy for a component of our marketing, but got interrupted by a user with a sick Windows 7 notebook. She needed my help. So I helped. I didn’t stop to create a “Fix Bethany’s HP” project in OmniFocus, with tasks including “Reinstall Symantec” and “Run updates.”

I just did the work.

That said, I wanted to enter it into OmniFocus. I even thought about adding it after the fact, just to mark it as complete.

I enjoyed his post so much because gets to the heart of why I’m so confused by the Getting Things Done movement. So much is written out there about how to best way optimize your system and what software you should get that I always wonder if those ardent GTD people are actually doing anything but thinking about GTD. The irony is almost too much to take. 1

If you want get things done, it would seem obvious to just go ahead and do them. At least, that’s what works for me. 2

——-

1. This is the same sort of thing that is starting to happen with “minimal” writing software, where people are spending more time buying software than actually writing.

2. My struggles with procrastination, however, are a whole other thing.

Posted at 3:51pm and tagged with: tech, omnifocus, forkbombr, one column,.

June 1st 2011

If You Want to Get Better, Steal.   

A while ago, Marco Arment wrote a post about the design of smartphones before and after the introduction of the iPhone, citing how most smartphones now feature a similar design to Apple’s phone. As a result, smartphone hardware benefited from Apple’s entry into the market, speeding up smartphone innovation at an unprecedented pace. It’s a similar pattern that we are seeing in the tablet market today. Microsoft pioneered the idea of Tablet PCs early in the 2000s, but the design remained stagnant until the arrival of the iPad. Now every tablet is a large touchscreen surface.

This pattern also seems to be gaining popularity the high end laptop market. Putting a smirk on Mac enthusiasts everywhere, the recently announced Dell XPS 15z and Asus UX series laptops make litte attenot to hide their design influences. Despite being produced by huge PC manufacturers, one should be forgiven for throwing the word Knockoff around when describing these two computers. Even if they are merely settlling for creating copycats, it’s hopeful to see that PC OEMs are finally realizing that there is a desire for well designed computer hardware, a good thing for all of us.

PC hardware, especially laptops, have historically been atrocious. Outside of Lenovo’s ThinkPad line of notebooks, you would have been hard pressed to find a laptop or netbook that wasn’t:

  • Heavy, yet flimsy.
  • Made of cheap plastic
  • Using a terrible 6-cell Li-Ion battery
  • Lacking a good display
  • Burdened with terrible ergonomics, keyboard and trackpad

This was true also of the high end PC laptop market. Apple, with their critically acclaimed notebooks, has been dominating that market for years. NPD reported in 2010 that 90% of computer sold for 1000$ and up were Apple branded. PC OEMs, apparently having grown tired of being eviscerated in this space, have finally decided to try and create computers that could compete with the industrial design espoused by Apple’s line of computers. Heeding the words of Picasso, PC OEMs started to simply design desktops and notebooks that liberally borrowed from the concepts of iMac 2 and Macbook line. This trend became most apparent in 2009, with the introduction of HP’s Envy notebook line. With the Envy, it was apparent that HP had taken design cues from Cupertino on how to build a high-end notebook. It didn’t get everything right, notably the trackpad and battery 3, but the Envy’s combination of a light and sturdy metal casing, impressive display and high performance internals showed that it was possible to create a laptop that -ahem- Macheads could be envious of. Subsequent iterations were much improved.  Dell attempted something similar with the Adamo notebook line, a device clearly influenced by the Macbook Air. Unfortunately, Dell killed the Adamo earlier this year, presumably because it still couldn’t compete with the Air, which was getting better components while slashing its price.

That didn’t mean Dell was done taking hardware cues from Apple. Since simply inspiring themselves from the Macbook family hadn’t worked out, with the Dell XPS 15z, they simply decided to stitch together spare Macbook Pro and PowerBook pieces together and call it a day.  Asus, for their part, joined into the fray by repurposing a Macbook Air sample they managed to get their hands on and creating a whole new category to go with it. To HP’s credit, the Envy line at least managed to not cross the line between inspiration and theft.

It is easy to criticize this copycat approach to building notebooks. For consumers however, it’s a breath of fresh air to finally be able to purchase a top quality Windows laptop designed for adults. Every one wins when more laptops feature attractive, sturdy designs and long-lasting enclosed batteries. There is one downside. So long as OEMs continue to crib directly from Apple, they’re hardware will always be one step behind. Whenever it actually ships, the Asus UX series laptops will seems comparable to a MacBook Air today 4, but it will surely immediately fall behind as soon as Apple introduces a refreshed model.

Perhaps more interesting is the reason why it took so long for PC notebooks in this style to start appearing in the first place. Apple has been providing amble subject matter to steal from since the introduction of the Powerbook, so why are we only seeing these copycat designs now? I suspect that as Apple’s brand awareness has skyrocketed thanks to the iPhone and iPad, consumers have also become more aware of their other products, forcing other companies to offer something similar. Just as cellphone salesmen started to hear “Do you have something like the iPhone?” back in 2007, computer vendors are probably getting more and more questions related to “Something like that Macbook Pro”. It remains to be seen whether PC makers are looking at Apple for inspiration simply as a quick fix solution to this problem or because they are actually trying to drive hardware innovation. Watching what happens at the middle and low end of the computer market and seeing if the improvements made at the high end segment trickle down might be a good indicator.

Overall, there’s nothing wrong with all these copycats. Consumers win because they have a broader range of high quality computers to choose from. If PC computers continue to innovate and offer competitive products, it’ll provide extra incentive for Apple to continue to deliver the groundbreaking products that they’re known for.

That should be enough to put a smile on everyone’s face.

—————
1. And really, the whole market.

2. PC OEMs still offer very few all in one desktops. Most of them are HP touchscreen enabled computers, which are rather atrocious.

3. You could blame the poor battery life on the early generation i5 & i7 processor in the envy, which weren’t optimized for mobile use.

4. Possibly beating the Air to Sandy Bridge







Posted at 3:27pm and tagged with: apple, asus, copycat, dell, macbook, one column, tech, readlater,.

May 31st 2011

The Problem With Microsoft’s Idea of Social   

Microsoft seems to take great pride in the social media integration that’s built right into the Windows Phone platform. By creating a very focused platform designed with deep integration of messaging services within the operating system itself, Microsoft has adopted a specific design philosophy with Windows Phone which seeks to sets them apart from other Android, webOS and iOS devices. With the announcement last week of Mango, their latest Windows Phone software update, communication was touted as an important pillar of the platform moving forward. It’s a fantastic idea; with people participating in various social networks simultaneously, it makes sense to want to create a device that integrates all of them together in a meaningful way. Yet despite their best intentions, the way they’ve gone about implementing such a system just falls flat on its face. While seemingly well fleshed out, new features in Mango like the threaded messaging system and contact grouping show just how little Microsoft has actually considered the way someone might use their phones outside the confines of a controlled press event.

Consider how one might actually use something like threaded messages in real life. No real consideration seems to have been given to the reasons people use different messaging platforms. Is there really a need for using SMS, Facebook Chat and messenger simultaneously to stay in touch with friends when anyone you contact through SMS is bound to almost always have their cellphone near them? Conversely, there isn’t any point to using SMS for those people whom you exclusively contact through online messaging services precisely because you don’t have a number to reach them at. Microsoft doesn’t seem to have caught on to the idea that people use different messaging services to communicate with different people in their lives. Having a unified space for all your conversations only makes sense in theory. Besides, who has ever consistently carried out a single continuous conversations over multiple messaging services at the same time, if at all?

Although each is unique in their own ways, Windows Phone treats all messaging platforms the same. The problem is that a service like Facebook Chat is useful BECAUSE it’s built into Facebook’s larger network, where users can share posts and links together. Threaded messages in Mango don’t contain the same level of interactivity. They take messages out of their context. Everything is reduced to being an SMS message. If a user wants to have a Facebook conversation with multiple friends,or even just view a link he’s received, won’t he be better off using a dedicated client?

Microsoft takes social integration as a literal term, where various services are dumped together is some superficial manner, no questions asked, with users being left to dig any meaning out it themselves. This isn’t to say that there aren’t talented people working on the platform, it’s in fact probably one of the most innovative departments Microsoft has going right now. Somewhere down the line though, things seem to go awry. There’s precedent for this sort of social crowd “featuremandering” in their mobile division. The same problems seen with Windows Phone could also be observed in features of Microsoft’s defunct Kin phones. Similar to contact grouping in Mango, the “Loop” was feature on Kin devices that was meant to be a repository for updates from all the various social networks you were connected to. Engadget’s review of the Kin describes the issue at hand with Microsoft’s efforts:

“The basic premise of the Loop also presented problems. The idea is that you can quickly glance at all of your friends’ updates and respond to them quickly, but it soon becomes a daunting task just trying to understand who is saying what. The average Facebook user has 130 friends (we tested with accounts of over 700 and 200), Twitter adds noise to the mix, MySpace compounds it… and the phone only updates every 15 non-user-adjustable minutes. Sometimes less! What happens is that you can’t really keep track of any conversations, and your friends (or in our case, lots of people you don’t really know) become less about their individual voices, and more about random shouts in a big crowded room.”

Fast forward a few months to their review of the Windows Phone 7 launch and the message is eerily familiar:

“With Exchange or Gmail, this strategy is probably fine in most cases — contact sync is one of the main reasons you use Exchange ActiveSync. But seriously, Facebook is another matter altogether. If you’re a normal human being with maybe a couple hundred or fewer actual contacts, you’re used to just flicking through your contact list to get to whomever you need. Having all of your Facebook contacts mixed in with the rest of your friends and family could be a real mess, right?

All in all, unless you’re a hardcore Facebook user (which, let’s be honest, many people are), you’re going to be annoyed by how deeply and irrevocably integrated the service is in this phone. The fact that your Photo hub is populated by pictures taken by people you may not know that well is a little disorienting, and not giving users control over which groups of friends they see creates a feeling of chaos that isn’t always welcome.”

So now Mango introduces group tiles to solve the problem, simply dividing up all your friends into smaller, more manageable packets. Again, sounds good in theory. In practice, it makes sense for users to accumulate large groups rather than multiple small ones, a strategy with problems of its’ own. Staying up to date on Facebook requires staying in contact with large groups of people. The idea of a small, isolated social network is anathema to something like Facebook. Is this the solution Microsoft sees to make connecting and sharing easier?

Also perplexing are the things that aren’t incorporated into Mango’s new communication features. Why isn’t there support for Skype or messages from your Xbox Live contacts? Don’t they seem more useful in a threaded conversation, where you could jump from an SMS text conversation into a video chat, or into a game your friend as invited you to? In a way, the video demos of Mango only really show you half the picture; how to view your friends social activities. What it doesn’t show you, is how to actually reach out and participate in those activities. It may be that for those things, Windows Phone is still dependant on the browser and applications.

On their News Center webpage, Microsoft states its goal in regards to communication in Mango:

[The} next release of Windows Phone – available to consumers in early fall – was designed and organized around the person or group of people users want to communicate with rather than the various apps used to reach them.

Superficially, they’ve achieved this. Windows Phone is definitely a mobile operating system that attempts to roundup all your social activity into one place. The UI designed for this is actually pretty impressive and sells the concept pretty well. It’s too bad that doing anything beyond simply viewing updates from your live tiles or sending plain text messages to your friends is going to require using a web client or application to do so. Services like Facebook and Twitter by their nature require that they be used within their own ecosystems. While it’s possible to build software that could incorporate all these social networks together, using them simultaneously would be neither simple or useful. Microsoft’s quest to achieve something like this shows just how hard it is to get right. The truth remains that people who actually need to use multiple services at once have a need for deeper experiences than what Windows Phone is offering by itself. If you envision yourself actually wanting to use threads or group tiles, you’re going to want to be able to do more than just what’s being shown off in their promotional videos.

If your not one of those power users, then it is probably all rather useless to you anyway.

Posted at 3:10pm and tagged with: tech, mango, one column, microsoft, windows, phone, 7,.

May 27th 2011

Instapaper as a Writing Tool   

Up until recently, I couldn’t come up with a reason to purchase Instapaper, Marco Arment’s popular reading archive application. From all the recomendations I was hearing, I had downloaded the free version of the application last year to try it out. After doing the initial setup, I never went back to it. I never had the urge to “read later”. Shame on me.

I thought the reason might lie with my own habits not lining up with those of the typical user. When browsing websites and blogs, I tend to read articles on the spot. If I don’t have the time, I simply leave the browser open, bookmark the page or remember roughly where I found the article. It seemed redundant to use Instapaper when I was also using applications like Reeder, which already stored all the articles of my favorite writers in one place. I really wanted to like Instapaper. It has a great interface and Marco has obviously put alot of thought and passion it. I simply could not justify it.

Until I started writing.

Doing research for this site, I’m always collecting articles and news items from all over the web for future use, sometimes for projects I don’t plan on writing for weeks. When the time would come for me to refer back to them for the piece I’d be writing, I found it really distracting having to switch back and forth between my text editor and my browser to look up some piece of information in my browser history. As I collected more and more articles, trying to remember what was what from all the bookmarks I was accumulating was becoming cumbersome. I needed a better solution. Which is when I turned back to Instapaper. I realized I could use it as a giant virtual folder for storing research instead of things I wanted to read for leisure. Now, whenever I find an article I might want to use in some future article, I save it to Instapaper. I can then fire up the application on my iPhone or iPad while I’m writing on my desktop, where it’s much easier to refer to and less distracting while I’m writing.

It turned out that I was looking at Instapaper from the wrong paradigm. As silly as it sounds, I’m more interested in Instapaper when I think of it as a writing tool rather than a reading application. It’s a semantic distinction, but it’s what allowed me to finally see the value of it.

Posted at 11:27am and tagged with: instapaper, writing, tech, one column,.

May 26th 2011

More Square Than NFC   

It was only a matter of time, but Google finally made the first move in the digital wallet arena, announcing Google Wallet, a new service adopting Near Field Communication technology to enable Android users to make contactless payments for all sorts of transactions. Along with the help of MasterCard, Sprint and CitiBank, Google is looking to redefine the point of sale experience for both consumers and business owners. For the sake of maintaining their aura of openess, Google announced they would be making Google Wallet available beyond just Android devices, presumably through an app. It’s astonishing, given how implausible, they even bothered making such an empty statement.

Today’s news is only going to push rumors of when we might see Apple’s NFC implementation in the iPhone. As one of the more popular rumors floating around for the last little while, we’re to hear even more from speculators and analysts on when we may see an NFC equipped iOS device. Rather than wondering when, we might be better served wondering whether Apple is even interested in the technology.

Before we get ahead of ourselves however, let’s use some numbers to try and obtain some perspective on the state of contactless payments as they stand today.

From the consumer’s end

As of the end of 2010, there were approximately 88 million MasterCard PayPass (RFID) enabled credit cards, out of 975 million total cards in circulation. This amounts to roughly 9% of total cards.

Visa boasts a total card circulation twice the size of Mastercard, with around 1.9 billion cards. Finding statistics on the number of cards with Visa’s version of PayPass, called payWave, was a bit tougher. For the sake of argument, let’s say it’s around the same percentage as MasterCard, around 9% , about 171 million cards. 1

The 2009 Boston Federal Reserve Survey of Consumer Payment Choices seem to corroborate these percentages. Their study found that while 24% of U.S. Consumers owned a contactless payment device, only 9% of those were linked to a credit card account.

From the vendor’s end

The statistics don’t seem to quite matchup in this instance, but it’s worth looking at them anyway. MasterCard claims there have 276 ooo Paypass locations worldwide. Meanwhile, David Eads from Kony Solutions estimates in an interview with CNET that there are 750 000 NFC enabled terminals in the U.S, alone. He clarifies that the number represents about 1% of total sales terminals in the country.

Concerning the number of transactions, the SCPC study found that about 3% of transactions carried out in 2009 were done using a mobile device. 1.3% of payments were made through NFC enabled devices.

Getting an idea of the numbers is important because there’s just too much PR fluff going on. When taking stock of Google’s announcement today, it’s good to keep in mind that relative to the entire industry, the lofty figures they throw around is but a small drop in an enormous bucket.

Despite the relatively small figures, there is still lots of money to be made, which is why Google and it’s partners are pushing hard for the transition to NFC payments. Specifically, they are after a chunk of interchange revenues, consisting of fees collected by banks and third parties for actually processing your credit card transactions when you shop. 2 From the same CNET report:

“Electronic payments in the U.S., according to the Federal Reserve was $40 trillion in 2010,” David Eads, who leads product marketing for Kony Solutions told CNET. “So for every 1 percent of mobile payment adoption that happens of that number, that’s $407 billion in transactions.” Eads, who has a background in the mobile payments industry, founded the mobile consultancy Mobile Strategy Partners and held positions at mFoundry and Tealeaf Technology. He explained that the big ticket item in that magic $407 billion number was the “interchange” revenue, which is where various parties get a cut from fees. That can run anywhere from $4 billion to 6 billion on each $407 billion chunk. It also makes things more competitive among the various parties that take fees, since retailers can choose the card or payment provider they want to support.”

NFC solutions are desirable to banks and credit card companies because they are an evolution of a their current business model. A chip replaces a card, but the transaction is still done over a custom POS terminal, where various interchange fees can be collected. They are the ones who stand to gain most from NFC technologies; it’s a reason to charge more money. Obviously, Google wants in on this action. And while their presentation seemed to paint a bright and rosy picture for the future of NFC payments, there are quite a few unresolved issues to deal with. Biggest of all is that the technology isn’t particularly attractive to merchants.

Businesses, especially big chains, are notoriously slow to make any sort of technological change. Any potential changes are bound to be carefully considered and planned well ahead of time. Hence why Google wallet is only starting with a field test in San Fransisco and New York. I don’t think their official launch in the summer is going to be much bigger.

There is some upside for retailers to transition to contactless payments. MasterCard claims that clients with PayPass cards used their cards 27% more frequently than clients with regular cards. There is also the speed and ease of mobile payments. Time is always money in the business world. Finally, as demonstrated by Google, there’s a large potential for the creation of apps that can deliver context based advertisements and deals directly to consumers. All good things for retailers.

The flip side is that there is no pressing reason for merchants to jump onto the NFC bandwagon. With few NFC enabled phones actually out in the market ( I can only think of the Nexus S), there’s not much incentive to make the upgrade immediately, especially taking into consideration the extremely low percentage of sales actually made by NFC payments. It’s a sort of catch-22; that one percent figure is only going to go up if merchants adopt the technology and phones are made available, but they themselves aren’t likely to make a move unless they see that figure rise first. The costs involved in the transition to contactless payments is also something businesses are taking stock of. Even more than just the cost of upgrading or installing new point of sale terminals, the emergence of a whole new slew of players in the interchange fees game might be off-putting. As the ones ultimately footing the bill for those fees, the costs involved are an essential factor. It’s yet unclear how much Google and it’s partners is going to charge for their services, but it stands to reason that costs are probably not going down. If Apple or other companies also get into NFC payments, we’re likely going to see a fragmentation of the market as retailers pick and choose which services to offer.

This is without delving into issues relating to security. The jury is still out. Banks and credit card companies will obviously claim NFC payments are secure, but there isn’t any real hard data to test to. Swiping account numbers and personal data from physical cards is a more labor, time and skill intensive endeavor for potential criminals than something requiring only a few software hacks. 3 This is a problem all mobile payment systems are going to face, not only NFC technology.

Google doesn’t seem concerned with those issues. Beta services are in their DNA. Their philosophy is to just engineer issues away as they arrise. Which brings us to Apple. What might their move be?

Unlike Google, Apple is going to survey the wireless payment landscape before making any decisions. Like any other emerging technology, Apple is never in a rush to jump into any beds unless it has a clear reason to do so. It’s almost certain they will make a move with mobile payments, but it may not necessarily be with NFC technology. Yes, Apple is researching the technology, they’d be remiss not to. That doesn’t guarantee that your next iPhone is going to have an NFC chip in it.

Apple is going to want two things with any mobile or contactless payment system they decide to implement in their devices:

- Curatorial control over the design and delivery methods of any payment or virtual storefront applications. User experience is sure to be primordial.

- A cut of potential profits that corporate partners are likely to find onerous.

Apple is always going to negotiate for these two points, their argument being that they believe no one else can match the popularity, awareness and technical superiority of the iOS platform. With so many people involved in processing an NFC transaction 4, it’s possible Apple sees they won’t be able to negotiate favorable terms for themselves with everyone and that they’d rather not bother with all the bureaucratic hurdles.

Technical factors is also something to take into consideration. Fitting an NFC chip into the internals of their iOS devices, however small, might be something they’d rather avoid, given the limited space. And given Steve Jobs penchant for simple and elegant hardware solutions, it’s possible he may just not like the whole process of an NFC transaction.

So where else could Apple be considering? One option might be to forgo NFC chips altogether and use third party apps that deliver software solutions over a wireless network. Such an example is Square, an application which transforms an iOS device into a portable POS terminal and inventory manager that can deliver a wide range of services. Using a proprietary card reader, which plugs into a headphone jack, business owners can carry out credit card transactions simply and effortlessly. Furthermore, Square recently announced the introduction of Card Case, a customer application that allows businesses using Square as their POS terminals to send menus, advertisements and bills directly to customers using Card Case. One feature they announced, Tabs, allows customers to make payments directly over their phones at participating businesses, after making an initial physical credit card transaction. Your data is stored afterwards with the business and they simply bill you over the air subsequently.

Square is about redefining the entire Point of Sale experience, for both the consumer and the merchant. On their website, Square elaborates on the advantages their system provides to restaurants and small businesses. For them, it’s an easy,simple and affordable solution. Square charges one flat interchange rate and doesn’t require that the business owner meet a certain quota of sales or enter into a contract.

Some critics think that while Square’s solution works for the restaurant industry or small businesses, it doesn’t exactly scale up to large retail operations, where inventory and book keeping needs go beyond what Square can provide. While that may be true presently, it take a serious lack of foresight to be unable to imagine a similar solution at a larger scale. Apple stores already show this is possible. Apple specialists roam the salesfloor with customized iPhones that have bar code scanners and credit card swipers to process transactions anywhere in the store. It’s also not hard to imagine their new iPad sale displays being morphed into an app customers could access directly from from their iOS devices. You could imagine they could allow customers to make purchases directly from their iPhones, with an Apple employee bringing the merchandise right to them.

Following this chain of thought, it’s possible to imagine why Apple might prefer to emulate Square and offer their own App based POS solution rather than adopting the proposed NFC model. This option would definitely satisfy the two main criteria outlined above, concerning design control and profit share. They could develop their own POS application for both retailers and and consumers, where transactions could be handled simply through the credit card number stored in your iTunes account. Unlike Square’s tab system, no initial physical transaction would be required. Adopting this route eliminates the need for Apple to negotiate deals with banks and credit card emitters. They can simply charge businesses one flat fee, from which only they profit. 5 They could also sell customized iOS devices to larger businesses who need access to bar code scanners and have more complex logistical needs. It might be an extremely ambitious move, but it is still a plausible one.

Why might Apple prefer this route?

- They retain control over the whole experience.

- They provide the software and set the financial terms.

- No need to deal or negotiate with anyone else.

- No hardware restrictions. No need to build devices with NFC chips.

- Unlike NFC enabled devices, there is already an enormous iOS device install base.

That last point is one area where Apple could entice businesses in a way that Google Wallet can’t. There is already an established and global presence of iOS devices with iTunes accounts waiting for retailers to use. There is no need to wait and see how long it takes for NFC devices to become popular. Google doesn’t necessarily care about owning the whole experience. Their strength lies in advertising and reaping profits from those avenues. They are happy being just another middleman in the POS experience. However, Google Wallet’s success depends on a whole bunch of different factors, many of which they can’t really control. Dependent isn’t in Apple’s vocabulary.

Near Field Communication is a technology that, similar to Blu-Rays in the video industry, runs the risk of being leapfrogged by something more effective. NFC payments as currently imagined don’t benefit business or consumers so much as banks and advertisers. Which is why Google is so quick to get in the game. Mobile payments are the way forward, no doubt, but they are still a ways off. When Apple makes a move, and it probably won’t be soon, it’ll be because they are ready to make an impact. It’s entirely possible Apple will still adopt NFC for iOS devices and enter into some sort of partnership with major credit cards and banks, much in the same way Google has. Despite this, the trail being blazed by Square shouldn’t be discounted. Their approach is trying to enable an entirely new way for business and customers to interact with each through rich and feature filled software. It’s designed with the retailer and consumer in mind, not interchange fees.

So in trying to consider what Apple may do, think of what Google Wallet and Square are trying to accomplish. Compare them and ask yourself, which model seems more like something Apple would think of?

——

1. Visa doesn’t seem to really focus on payWave numbers in their press releases and media kits, at least from my own research. Generally, when companies don’t tout numbers, it’s because they aren’t that good. My 9% figure might be generous.

2. Which is part of at the reason why I think there isn’t so much talk about using NFC technology with debit cards. It probably isn’t as enticing since only really the banks are involved in the transactions.

3. There are so many ways it could be done. Off the top of my head: rerouting wireless transactions to another device. Or criminals could set up false “storefronts”, pretending to be the store customers are shopping at.

4. The only way vendors would accept to use NFC payments from various companies is if a multipurpose terminal is available for them to use. This would involve, at some level, negotiations between Google, Apple and any other mobile provider. It’s hard to imagine all of them coming to an agreement easily or amicably.

5. Obviously, Apple pays their own interchange fees when processing transactions from iTunes account. They can cover those costs through the fees they charge the business. The advantage for the business owner is that they only have to deal with one middle man, rather than several, something they would inevitably have to deal with using NFC terminals.

Posted at 7:53pm and tagged with: Square, NFC, apple, google, visa, mastercard, tech, one column,.

May 26th 2011

LTE iPhone Still a Ways Off

Steve Lyb, on the probability of an LTE iPhone sometime in the near future:

So let’s say that, staying true to AT&T’s timeline, 15 cities will have LTE (I refuse to call it 4G) by this time next year, if not later.

Battery issues aside, could you really imagine Apple releasing a phone with such porous LTE coverage this soon?

File this one under 2012, folks.

I agree. While we might see an iPhone with an improved 3G antennas (the nebulous 4G telecoms are talking about now) relatively soon, a true 4G iPhone is probably not even in the cards for 2012.  Apple is going to wait until true 4G coverage is available wherever iPhones are sold, not just in the U.S. In Canada, 4G LTE networks might not be in place until at least 2012.

Don’t hold your breath.

Posted at 1:27am and tagged with: LTE, iPhone, AT&T, cellphones, tech, one column,.

May 25th 2011

The People Upstairs are Doing Their Jobs   

General reactions to the new Nook announced today by Barnes and Noble were generally enthusiastic.

I’m most surprised by how they’ve been able to go from having zero hardware manufacturing exeprience hardly two years ago to releasing a credible device that seems up to the task to challenging the Kindle head-on.  I didn’t think it’d be possible for them to climb such a hill; while they were certainly innovative, the first two Nooks weren’t exactly great devices.

But chalk that up to inexperience. They worked out the kinks and now the Nook gets it right in the places that matter: Size, battery life, ease of use and price.  Amazon is going to have it’s work cut out for them.

There is obviously some good corporate leadership and vision at B&N. They’ve realized their current business model is a shinking ship.  Rather than try and delay the inevitable, they identified a way to remain relevant in the print industry and set about doing it. All in an incredibly short period of time.

Color me impressed.

Posted at 9:31am and tagged with: Barnes & Noble, Nook, tech, one column,.