NFC – It’s about the e-wallet

I’ve been really excited about the NFC technology since it’s been announced an have been reading quite a few articles about it. Over time, it has made me re-evaluate why I’m as interested in the idea as I am. After the soul searching, I came to the conclusion that for me, NFC is a means to an end. It’s really the e-wallet idea that really intigues me.

I don’t know when the idea first intrigued me. Perhaps it was being in HK and watching others use the “Octopus” card but it wasn’t until Dexit came to Toronto that it became more of a reality. Dexit failed but Mastercard introduced PayPass and provided a broader infrastructure and it is still being actively used. To me, the idea really sunk in when I was part of the beta group for a Zoompass initiative. The idea of being able to wave my phone at a device to pay was great. Almost everyone who saw me do it enquired about it. Most were disappointed when they couldn’t be part of the program that enabled them to use paying by their mobile device.

There have been a few concerns about the concept that are interesting that I’d take the opportunity to discuss:

Low Volume of Adoption
For the most part, the segment of people that would benefit most from this technology are people with smartphones. Although there have been discussions about embedding the NFC chip into the SIM card to enable older generation phones to have this capability, I suspect that anyone who would be really interested or will benefit from the technology would likely own a smartphone to begin with.
It’s hard to dispute that the volume will be low initially. Smartphone usage still represents the minority of users in the world. While this number is growing, it is still not there. However, the one thing that should be compelling for payment providers is the segment that they represent – affluent because these devices aren’t cheap. It’s inconvenient and uncomfortable

One of the major concerns have been that it is not convenient to pay with a phone as most people already are comfortable with paying with a credit card. This is probably true if you look at the population as a whole. However if you focus your market segment to people who own smartphones, the argument can be contested. A smartphone to most people is more than a device to receive phone calls. For most smartphone users, the phone is either out in hand or readily available. It is at worst as convenient as trying to access your wallet.

Another argument I’ve read is that it is cumbersome to look for a payment app on your smartphone which is a bit of an absurd argument. Most smartphone users arrange their apps to optimize their usage where the most used apps are also the most accessible. The other thing that the argument doesn’t account for is how modern smartphones work. These apps can be programmed to run on the background and come to the forefront when required.

It’s not secure
One of the more intriguing things about NFC is that it is short range and more importantly, can (and should be) implemented as a two-way communication device. This makes it possible to do a secure handshake to allow for a secure transmission of a financial transaction. I often imagine that you could mimic the workflow of entering your PIN of your payment card on a payment terminal with your smartphone to ensure the security of every transaction.

Consumers don’t care for it or don’t understand it
I would agree that NFC doesn’t mean anything to the general consumer. However, I would argue that smartphone users get the idea of a smart wallet. Back in the day of PDAs, exchanging business cards via infrared was acceptable. Today using Bump to exchange information is not uncommon. There were 10 million instances of the app downloaded in March of 2010. Companies like Paypal have partnered with Bump to facilitate peer-to-peer payment. Starbucks has reported that payments from their mobile app represents 22% of their total payments.

The thing that I like about NFC is that the infrastructure already exist. In Canada, Mastercard PayPass, Shell EasyPay and Esso all use some form of NFC technology. Given that it is based on radio frequency, scanning for an ID would be a lot easier than trying to scan a barcode off a device. NFC could be game changing.

One of the reasons why I think it will be particularly interesting to follow is The Apple Factor. It is public knowledge that I am not a fan of Apple mobile products to date. I don’t find them technologically innovative. The one thing you can’t deny, however, is no one innovates consumer experience like Apple. They have been able to make something nerdy like mobile phones to be cool and socially acceptable. If they release the capability on the iPhone, there’s a good chance for rapid user adoption.

Then there is also the The Google Factor. Google is really interested in NFC but I suspect it’s not for payment reasons. Google had a product called Tag that was associated with their Google Local product line. Tag was basically giving merchants a QR Code for users to scan. I suspect Google will use NFC to beef up it’s Local product to give users a richer and more proactive localized and targeted ad experience. QR Codes was pretty reactives and so are check ins. With NFC, Google could potentially identify where an individual is within a relatively close range outside of GPS coverage and serve up ads within a close proximity of a location.

Another interesting thing about NFC and the eWallet is that it should cause some changes in the industries. Some of the beneficiaries will be:
Mobile payment vendors like Paypal and Zoompass will definitely be the big winners in this space. NFC could represent the ability to bypass credit card companies like Visa and Mastercard and be another legitimate financial vendor. It’d be easy for small companies to use their phones as a credit card device. While technologies like Square already does it but you need an attachment to do receive payments.

Credit card companies like Visa and Mastercard would definitely benefit from NFC. Paypal would likely be able to target segments that larger credit card companies would consider not as lucrative. NFC could influence higher micro transactions and it be an area of increased revenue.

Loyalty programs could definitely be huge winners with products line NFC. Unlike credit cards where consumers are only inclined to carry one, an e-wallet would enable a consumer to carry as many loyalty cards as they deem necessary without bloating their wallet. Loyalty programs should be really interested in an e-wallet not only from the ability for them to better understand their members but also be able to send very targeted promotions to members therefore providing a much better service and incentive to merchants who use their products.

Viber – Another Skype competitor

While I like the idea of another Skype competitor, I don’t really get the competitive difference between Skype and Viber. The most prominent differences as outlined in the Techcrunch article are less power hungry than the current Skype iPhone app and that it is a product that leverages your phone number instead of an ID. 

In my mind, those aren’t strong advantages. It is quite conceivable that Skype could change their app to leverage the Apple Push Network. I can’t imagine it being impossible or overly expensive to do if there were enough drop off of mobile usage of Skype’s mobile product.

I see leveraging a phone number instead of an ID to be a severe disadvantage for Viber instead of an advantage. Considering that the product is targeted to smartphone users, I’d think that most smartphone users today generally don’t remember phone numbers. If anything, the reason why most people use smartphones is to generally to contact people by means other than the mobile phone. In fact, there are actually quite a few people whom I communicate with whom I don’t have phone numbers for. Secondly, while not too many people have multiple mobile phone numbers like I do, most people have multiple devices. I think the most common scenario is having a mobile phone, a work computer and a home computer. Having a communication product that forces me to be tied to one device makes it quite unattractive for me.

As I’ve never tried the product and don’t have an iPhone any more, I’m actually quite curious to see how good is this product for it to be given the rating of “amazingly amazing” from TechCrunch. 

Why Windows Phone 7 is not Microsoft’s mobile saviour

I have always been a huge fan of Windows Mobile and at the heart of it, Windows Phone 7 really is Windows Mobile in spirit; it is a platform that is meant for consumer small devices. Microsoft’s strategy has always been targeted at the business community and hence they have always seen their main competitor as RIM. Apple came out of left field and proved that there was a market for non-professionals and both Microsoft and RIM were both left stunned. Google has snuck into the market in the past two years and has quickly gained around 3.5% share of the mobile market.

In my opinion, Windows Mobile has always been a superior OS technically in comparison to the iPhone. I cannot think of any feature outside of specific gestures that are not available on Windows Mobile. The core of its strength is that it is a true OS with less limitations than the iPhone. Unlike the iPhone, most problems are solveable by a developer. Don’t like the native home screens, there are a number of alternatives including SPB Mobile Shell. Don’t like the native keyboard, there are alternatives to that like Swype and TouchPal. Don’t like the browser, there are a ton of solid replacements like Opera and Skyfire. Launching a new OS that is technically better is a moot point as Windows Mobile today is a technically better product than the iPhone.

While Microsoft never had the hearts and minds of the user community, the biggest loss they are facing now is the that of the development community. Proof in that is in the lack of new applications. Every new web service builds apps for the iPhone followed by the Android. Rarely for Windows Mobile. Even with web APIs widely available, there are very few third party apps built for Windows Mobile. Back then, for a developer, there were no real choices and no real competition outside of Windows Mobile. Today, it is cheaper, cooler and more profitable to develop for the iPhone and the Android platforms.

Microsoft has to find a way back to the developer community’s hearts by giving away Visual Studio for free and even as far as giving away devices for free. They could even bundle Visual Studio with a mobile device for cheap. But they have to bring back their developer community before they do a push to their user community. Once you have a handful of high profile apps, then they have to do an Apple-like push for their platform. Their battle ahead to compete in this space is not technical; it’s a marketing war.

Things I love and hate about the iPhone

It is a pretty known fact that I LOVE the Windows Mobile platform and consider it the best mobile platform purely from a technology standpoint. However, when I joined Canpages in November, I was given the opportunity to purchase any phone that was available by Rogers. Given that I owned both HTC Android phones and Rogers did not carry any Windows Mobile phones that was worth acquiring, the only real choice left really was to get a 16GB iPhone 3GS. I approached that decision with a lot of mixed feelings. In my initial use of the iPod Touch, I really disliked the experience. However, I only used it for a few hours at a time, I was willing to give it another try. Here are some of my thoughts after almost 4 months of use.

iPod application is fantastic
I haven’t tried the Zune yet but I have to say that the iPod is a fantastic music player and the integration to iTunes is quite seamless. I love the fact that it can carry a copy of my favourite music with me any time I want.
Multi-calendar support
I like that you can synchronize multiple Google Mail calendars to the iPhone which you really can’t do with Windows Mobile. While it wouldn’t be the core feature I’d abandon an OS for, it’s definitely a worthwhile feature for me as there are a handful of people whom I care to know what their schedules are.
There’s an app for that
The tagline for the iPhone ads is quite true. And at the heart of any smartphone OS, it is really about apps. There’s an application for almost everything that you can think of. Unsurprisingly, I install a lot of applications. Most free and some paid. I am a bit mixed about if they are cheap or not. In comparison, I probably spend as much if not more on apps on the iPhone as there is no concept of trial versions for apps and I’m constantly paying for apps in order to find a few good ones.My must have apps on the iPhone are Newsie (Google Reader integration), Pocket Informant (much more intuitive than the default calendar), Trillian (instant messaging), Tweetdeck (Twitter the way I think about it) and Shoutcast (Internet Radio)
Awesome on-screen keyboard
This came as a surprise to me actually but the on-screen is not only adequate but I would classify it as extremely usable. There are so many little things about the implementation of this product that made me not miss my hardware keyboard as much as I thought it would. I love that it predicts my mistyped words at a relatively high accuracy. The only times I would have to go and manually correct words would be when I use words that are common among my friends. I like the fact that it remembers the casing of the word that you’ve corrected so you don’t have to remember what it was before. The one thing downside of the on-screen keyboard and this is common for all on-screen keyboards is that it does take up a lot of screen real estate when it’s activated.
The User Interface is mediocre
When the iPhone first launched in 2007, it had the best User Interface out there. It’s greatest differentiator – it was understanding that the use of a stylus was an utter failure and reduced the adoption of mobile devices. It kept the user interface simple and to the point. Even then, the user interface wasn’t perfect and it still isn’t. It’s even hard to say if it’s even the best user mobile interface out there. It’s not dramatically worse than anyone out there. This part is more directed to fanboys who claim that this is the most intuitive interface. While there are a slew of frustrating problems, here are three that drive me crazy. The first is difficult for one-handed use. Many apps have buttons on the top left or right of the screen. This actually makes it difficult for one-handed use. I like the fact that for Windows Mobile, the menus are usually on the bottom left or bottom right hand side. Another is the use of the keyboard. Depending on the app, you either have to press a button on the screen or a button on the keyboard to execute a function. Minimizing a keyboard is even more confusing. Sometimes it’s clicking on another part of the screen and sometimes there’s just no way of minimizing the keyboard. In both Windows Mobile and the Android, there’s usually a button that minimizes the keyboard. Last but not least, is the settings of the app. Sometimes you have to configure the settings within the app and sometimes you have to go to the General Settings that is native to the iPhone app to set it and sometimes depending on the function, you have to check both. In both Android and Windows Mobile, they are always within the app unless it’s native to the Operating System.
Native apps like phone, calendar and mail are quite rudimentary
Although I rarely use the phone functions of my phone today, when I use it, I have certain expectations of it. For one, I am used to using the dial pad to spell out the name of the person. The dial pad is a lot bigger and it is much faster to type through than using the full keyboard. With the iPhone, I first have to click on the phone icon, followed by clicking on the contacts, scroll up to the search bar and then start spelling out the name of the person I’m trying to call. With my Fuze, this same use case is simply press on the phone button, start using the numeric keypad to spell out the name of the person I want to call and it’ll automatically start matching the names of the people that I want to call. The saving grace for the 3GS, however, is that, just like Windows Mobile, the voice command does not need to be pre-programmed and is a relatively quick way to dial someone’s number if you can pronounce the name properly.
It drives me crazy that I still can’t accept calendar invites that come from Google or Outlook which is where the majority of invites come from for me. I still use my Fuze to accept invites. This part is extremely frustrating to use and is a major fail for me.
Perhaps I’m extremely use to the way Pocket Outlook works. After all, I’ve used it for about 7 years now but I find the iPhone mail app quite unintuitive. There are really two major things that bug me. The first is the inability to mark all mail as read. I do get a large number of emails at work that I know I don’t have to read right away. As such, I’d like to mark them as read so that I know when new messages come in. Right now, the badge on the email icon means nothing to me because I have to check each mailbox to see if I have real new mail in each mailbox. This task is further encumbered by the fact that navigating to each mailbox is quite cumbersome.
No running of applications in the background
Most of my entertainment applications don’t require me to have the need to run the app in the background. However, for a number of important apps that I use, the lack of ability to run in the background is detrimental for my use. Take for example, Newsie which is my Google Reader application. I oftentimes have to turn on the app, leave the phone for a few minutes while it synchronizes to the server before I can actually start catching up with my reading. This is a bit of an annoyance but not detrimental to the the device during my day. However, because I can’t do a background sync on Pocket Informant, I can’t rely on the alerts as I’m never sure if the information is up to date or not. The only way to work around it is to constantly open the app to ensure that it’s synchronized properly.
I used to be of the opinion that the Smartphone aspect of the iPhone was an after thought. After five months of using it, I had to change my opinion a little. The iPhone is still quite a smart phone but it’s focus is more on media than traditional work tools which is what I personally look for in a device. As a play phone, the iPhone is a fantastic product. As a work phone for me, I still find it quite cumbersome and lacking.

Changes coming to Canadian Maps from Waze

I was quite excited to receive this email from Waze yesterday. Waze has been one of my favorite mobile apps of late. My major complaint was of course that there were very no Canadian maps available. With new Canadian maps, this could very well be a killer navigation tool while still providing real time information that you’d have to pay for from other providers like Tom Tom for instance.

Hello Canadian mappers,
Some great news – we have acquired a base map for all of Canada (thank you Canadian government!) and we will start loading them to the cartouche.
While this change is great, we realize this brings a few concerns to all the hard work you’ve put into creating the waze maps so far, so we wanted to explain how this process will be carried out which is why we’re sending this email.

Before we start, you should know that you can take a break for the next 2 days. Any changes made after we start the process will not make it to the final version of the map, and we don’t want you to waste your time. We will also put a big red pop-up on the cartouche itself letting you know once we started our work.
The technical descriptions are below (and my apologies for sending such a long email… only read if you’re interested).
At the end of the process, Canadian maps will remain on www.waze.com/cartouche, and aerial images should be up and running in the background.
Thanks and please feel free to email us if you have any concerns or questions
Dror
=========

Technicalities:

So how will the maps be combined? I will refer to two maps – the GOVT (new base map from the Canadian Government) and USER (existing cartouche maps)

  • Since the GOVT has more segments, this will be the base for the new map.
  • Each segment from the USER maps will be checked for a matching segment from the GOVT. If there’s a match, the the GOVT segment will keep its shape, but the driving direction, street name and ownership will be changed to match the USER segment.
  • If there’s no match, the USER segment will be added to the new map with all characteristics (including shape).
  • We will run a process that automatically recognizes highways. This process connects the highways to ramps and opens the driving directions. In this case, any prior info from the USER maps will be kept (info will be added only on new segments).
  • We will run all the drives in Canada up to date; this will open driving directions on all segments that were not created until today and create routing connectivity (allowed turns).
  • As for connectivity; the GOVT maps come with physical connectivity (nodes and their connection to the segments) but without routing connectivity (allowed turns). Unfortunately, we cannot move the routing connectivity from the existing cartouche when a new segment is involved. The only case where connectivity is kept is where two segments were not recognized completely and copied as is from the USER maps (3rd bullet above).

What should you expect?

  1. First of all, great new maps that will make it a lot easier for you to complete the work on your area.
  2. But… also some problems. Most likely you’ll notice a few places where there are duplicates, in case that the USER and GOVT segments were not matched properly, and so both were created in the final map. This is where we will need your help in editing and deleting the extra roads, so if you are not an area manager yet please let us know and we’ll be happy to see if you can join the area managers community.
  3. Routing might not be optimal; even if you got the routes around your house on a good level, you will notice a decrease. This is because we cannot copy the existing routing connectivity (see last bullet above).

As mentioned before, we will put the pop-up on the cartouche once the work begins (most likely in the next couple of hours or by tomorrow the latest) which will be your cue to take a break. I will also post this on the forums.

waze support team
www.twitter.com/waze
[email protected]
Share your experiences on the road with other wazers – waze.com/user_blog

Waze – Twitter for navigation

Lately I’ve been addicted to a pretty neat application called Waze. It brands itself as a social navigation app and has apps for the iPhone, Android, Windows Mobile and Symbian. I actually played with both the iPhone and Windows Mobile app and both work pretty decently. The app is pretty addictive. You essentially get points for numerous activities such as simply driving around, sharing event such as speed trap, recording new roads and yes, even editing the map. The mobile app works like it’s supposed to although I surprisingly had more problems connecting to the GPS with the iPhone than I did with the Windows Mobile which is quite rare. The web application is simplistic. You have a dashboard that shows you your previous trips and then you can choose to click them to view those trips. You could also choose to use those trips to enhance a current map by filling out roads that are missing and so on. I like the idea of editing my maps but I find the experience quite frustrating at times. Hopefully over time, they will continue to improve on it. The mobile app also integrates with both Twitter and foursquare.

Although maps are pretty sparse in Toronto and thus rendering navigation pretty useless in my area, it is easy to see the use of Waze. Every once in a while, I’ll get an alert stating that segments of the 401 have medium traffic followed by the speed of an anonymous user at the time. People can also report various things such as accidents on the roadways. One of the issues is that it’s technically illegal to operate Waze while driving so it works best when you have another driver in the car with you. For me, I typically just turn on Waze before I start driving and keep on driving. The neat thing about this is outside of giving up some privacy, it typically doesn’t really detract me from doing what I normally do anyway.

To me, what is probably most intriguing about Waze is the social experiment it represents. I’ve always been of the opinion that most people are most interested in controlling their privacy and not so much containing it. Most people are willing to give out information about themselves usually if it benefits them in one way or another. Given its ability to provide real time data to its users, it’s the equivalent of Twitter for navigation

Sometimes Complicated is Easier

Mama Kang seems to be inspiring a lot of my blog entries lately. As a was writing my previous blog entry, I came to a really personal realization and there’s no other way to describe it as an Apple moment three years too late. First off, let me describe Mama Kang a little bit more. The Kang family in general are a bunch of technophiles. We’ve long been exposed to computers even in our early childhood which is rare from a generation perspective and from the fact that we were born in a third-world country. We’re comfortable with trying anything new. Let’s just say that even at my age, I get tech hand-me-downs from my dad and not the other way around. In fact, Papa Kang is totally comfortable with the idea of having a PS3 as a mumtimedia centre because it’s cheaper than to build one. The exception to that rule is my mum. For the most part, mum is more than happy to hand off anything remotely technical to my dad.

Off late, I’ve been getting Mama Kang to use Twitter more. Not because she wants to but because it makes life easier for the rest of the family. The first thing after setting up her Twitter account, I installed Tweetdeck because there is no way that mum would know how to get to the Twitter page. Yes, that’s how mum works. I quickly realized at that point that mum isn’t in front of her computer much and isn’t apt to check Twitter. However, she’s more than happy to use her phone.

I was quite happy for mum when they reinstated SMS for Twitter in Canada and I quickly set up her phone. Funny thing is mum has never sent text messages before this and she didn’t even know how to get to the message function on her Sony Ericsson W810. After showing her how to use the messaging function and T9, she was ironically blocked by the fact that there was no easy way for her to get to the @ sign. Previous posts from mum typically resulted in random broadcast messages that you’d have to know her to understand who she was referring to.

My solution – purchase @elusivejackal’s T-Mobile G1. I have to admit that the initial introduction didn’t go as well as planned. Largely because it was two brand new paradigms for her – touchscreen and slideout full keyboard. Once she got that, it was really smooth sailing. It was, however, really amusing to watch her press the touchscreen really hard. Hopefully the phone lasts through that abuse.

A couple of things blew my mind. I have to admit that I half expected the experiment to fail. My use of a smartphone is really complex as I use my phone for most things such as communicating (IM, phone, email, twitter), blogging, life management (contact, tasks, calendar), finance tracking, reading, looking up info and lots of things I’m sure I don’t realize that I use it for. In all of the complexity of my use, the one thing that they have really done well with Windows Mobile, Android and the iPhone is that all of them have done a great job in making the phone extremely user friendly. For mum, she found the Android to be significantly easier to use than the Sony Ericsson W810. Once everything was setup, mum found the touch screen intuitive to use. With the slideout keyboard, it was a lot easier to send text messages than a regular T9 keyboard. She loves the new phone and I’ve been receiving lots of Twitter messages since she got her new phone.

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