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What we know (and suspect) about the iPhone 6 and iOS 8


As it is almost becoming a tradition in the industry, this time of the year gets fuelled with speculation, rumours, concepts and ideas on what the next iteration of Apple’s SmartPhone and mobile operating system would be. Here is a consolidation of what we know so far:

The Screen

Little room for doubt here, the iPhone 6 will definitely have a larger screen and quite possibly come in two different screen sizes (4.7 and 5.5 inch). There are quite a few facts pointing in this direction, and beyond leaked designs and alleged pictures of iPhone 6 parts, the key hint is coming from down the supply chain, where screen manufacturers are already ramping up production of screens in these sizes in time for a potential September launch. The latest to be added to the rumour mill is the announcement by Japan Display that they would start production of  a Quad-HD 5.5inch display in the second quarter of the year. Japan Display has recently been mentioned as to be entering the list of Apple’s component suppliers, and would mean a huge jump from the current 640 x 1136 resolution to a staggering 1440 x 2560. Details on the resolution for the eventual 4.7 inch display are yet to be released, but could be easily higher than current Full HD standards if density is maintained.

Design

Some very realistic and others bordering science fiction, iPhone concepts are a gradual approximation to the real product to which we are already used to. There seems to be consensus on two aspects: A slimmer body and a much thinner bezel allowing to minimise the volume (and hence weight) increase of the device due to the jump in the screen. Most of the concepts are evolutions from the current 5/5s family design (see this beautiful – and realistic – video by Sam Beckett).

There have also been alleged leaks of schematics that describe with high precision how the device would look like which have been used to create yet another concept which would inaugurate a new look for the iPhone saga.

iOS 8 and Wearables

It is becoming increasingly clear that iOS 8 would evolve the new look and feel inaugurated with iOS7, and would have a strong focus on Health and Fitness, in line with the blooming of wearable devices in the last couple of years which are seeing fitness as a huge potential market for wearable technology. It looks like all Health functions will be grouped inside Healthbook, just similarly to what Passbook meant as a place for coupons and passes. The increased popularity of iBeacons could possibly mean some further development of this technology with real life applications in iOS 8.

iOS 8 rendering by Sam Beckett

iOS 8 rendering by Sam Beckett

And wearables. While Healthbook would put your iPhone 6 at the core of your fitness activity, allowing you to track all your progress, monitoring health parameters would require sensors that are best fitted to wearable devices. This would be a good symbiosis with the much spoken and yet to be seen iWatch, which could pack an array of sensors to monitor your blood pressure, heartbeat and possibly even sugar levels and other parameters. This would be the perfect complement to create a complete ecosystem around Health & Fitness and would mark the start of Apple in wearable technology where others already have a couple of iterations.

As in previous years, still quite some time until we get to know iOS 8 as usual in WWDC 2014 -likely to be held mid June this year- and an eventual launch of the iPhone 6 in September, once iOS 8 goes through it’s beta phase, in what should be possibly one of the most feature and innovation packed launch in the iPhone’s history, teaming it with new devices, new design concept and a change in size. Looking forward!.

 

 

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There might be hope, after all


BlackBerry Messenger

BlackBerry Messenger

BlackBerry will not give up. Even though their latest generation of SmartPhones is not really taking off, the Canadian firm is still trying to find avenues to stay afloat. There was a first move opening BlackBerry Messenger (BBM) to other platforms, followed by the latest announcement of a pilot to allow monetary transactions over BBM. There might still be hope for the Canadian manufacturer, by focusing in monetising what once made them strong: Their level of security, and giving up what they are not really catching up with: Mobile Devices.

There are certain markets where BlackBerry remains strong, and where BBM enjoys a greater market share than WhatsApp (India, Indonesia and Canada amongst a few others). Seems logical to capitalise on their success in these core markets as well as the dominant position of BBM as the messaging app of choice.

Indonesia, once known as BlackBerry country, still accounts for more than 15 million users, and is the market of choice to launch their latest proposal, one that could definitely help increase the loyalty of Indonesians to the brand, but not sure whether it would be enough to attract new users to the platform. Named BlackBerry Money, the app allows BlackBerry users to link a bank account to their BBM identity, allowing to send money to other BBM users. In essence, a stored value account gets associated to the users BBM identity, where money can be used to make payments to friends and merchants. It can also be used to buy airtime from the user’s carrier and to send money back to their bank account upon receiving payments.

Fragmented market

There are quite a few mobile person to person payment solutions available, but the market is quite fragmented, with no proposition really having the critical mass required to become the de facto mobile payments standard. Barclays is one of the market players, with Pingit seeing quite a success in the United Kingdom. For BlackBerry Money to have a chance, it would need to be made available to all platforms where BBM is available. Only this way could it have the critical size to become the mobile payment platform of choice for consumers.money

Processing the payment

One of the key aspects when monetising mobile payments is the payment processor. Google still looks shy with Wallet whilst Apple is yet to make a move. Both companies have an enormous amount of Customer credit cards on file, and would probably be tempting for them to materialise payments by using credit card issuers, although this might be a gross misinterpretation and they might have bigger plans in the making to eat the credit card issuers cake. In the meantime, BlackBerry is teaming up with local banks and going towards a stored value model which gives them a certain degree of freedom on processing and eventually establishing (and receiving) the fees.

Quite an interesting move from the Canadian manufacturer, and one that could mean there might be hope, after all.

 

Fitness, Gamification and Payments – or what the iPhone 6 should bring to the party


So this could be it, the next generation of the iPhone seems to squeeze into a thinner case to possibly maintain it’s volume while finally going beyond a 4 inch screen.

Possible iPhone 6 prototype

Possible iPhone 6 prototype – Photo courtesy of MacRumours

Form factor aside, there are two elements that I believe would be the next trend setters: Fitness and Payments.

Payments

Your phone will be your wallet

Your phone will be your wallet

For the last two generations we have been missing NFC to be packed into the iPhone, sending a clear signal that this is not what Apple believed in for the short range / contactless communications required for mobile payments. In exchange, the iBeacon technology was introduced in iOS7, built over bluetooth 4.0, by making use of the BLE (Bluetooth Low Energy) standard.

In short, iBeacons are indoor located, low-power, low-cost emitting devices that, making use of the BLE, can make iOS devices in their vicinity aware of their presence. This enables all sort of use cases based on close proximity, allowing for any system to send notifications to your iPhone. The main advantage over NFC is that is doesn’t require any specific hardware on the mobile device, as it operates over Bluetooth 4.0, and it broadens the possibilities well beyond sending payments from a POS to a mobile device for them to be authorised (remember that fingerprint reader in the iPhone 5S?), retailers are already using iBeacons to enhance and augment shopping experiences.

Bits and pieces of the eventual payments ecosystem have been gradually introduced, with Passbook, introduced in iOS6 possibly playing a role in storing your payments information in conjunction with iCloud keychain. iBeacons would solve the problem of communicating with the mobile device to exchange the payment information and get the operation authorised.

It’s yet to be seen how far will Apple want to go, as this model would just automate and mobilise payments and allow for Customers to digitise their credit cards, but essentially the payment method would still be a credit card, which limits the revenue Apple would get should they become a payment processor. With about a billion credit cards on file, it’s difficult to believe they wouldn’t want to make the jump, but that’s possibly material for another post on the matter.

Fitness

Nike Fuel Band

Nike Fuel Band

It’s not a secret that games are the most highly ranked and rated mobile apps in all platforms, together with the most retained. Such is the difference with other applications that a whole science has been crafted to bring what makes games so addictive to other applications and businesses: Gamification.

Gamification is the use of game thinking and game-mechanics in a non-game context to engage users and solve problems. 

Wikipedia

Gamification techniques are based on human’s natural desire for competition, achievement, status and altruism, and can be implemented into applications in different manners:

  • Rewarding the customer for accomplishing desired tasks (badges, levels, virtual currency or just showing a progress bar)
  • Encouraging competition by making achievements and rewards visible to other players or providing leader boards
  • Integration with Social Media increases visibility and leverages the power of referral and recommendation, together with the engagement and competition with friends and relatives for progress

Quite a few companies have understood these dynamics and are getting increased engagement in all sort of fields, and fitness couldn’t be a better example. SmartPhones have been good companions in fitness in the last few years, and recent developments like Fitbit or Nike with Nike+ are putting all the Gamification ingredients in the shaker to create a perfect SmartPhone-Fitness-Social Media triangle. These companies are having to develop hardware to cover for the natural lack of fitness specific sensors in SmartPhones, but that is possibly going to change, and here is where I believe the iPhone 6 will again step ahead of the competition.

Reportedly, Apple would be packing into the 6 a few sensors that would enhance it’s fitness capabilities, like the ability to measure heart rate. The motion coprocessor is already there and tracks your movements with precision, so with new additions the 6 could be the perfect fitness companion. Game!

Capturing the fleeting business


Nokia Lumia 820 onboard POS

Nokia Lumia 820 onboard POS

While still struggling in the consumer market, some potential success stories start to emerge for the Nokia and Windows Phone tech marriage. Turning a Nokia Lumia 820 into a mobile point of sale with specific apps connected to their booking and payment systems, allows to capture a very short-lived business opportunity like on board paid upgrades.

Onboard connectivity definitely plays a role in the success of the initiative, but more importantly, paves the way for the next level of loyalty recognition and rewarding on the spot thanks to the connection with the centralized CRM systems.

A promising prospect for Delta and Nokia/Microsoft and definitely a big scale experiment with 19.000 units distributed amongst Delta’s Cabin Crew.

More about this story:

Nokia Lumia 820 Flying High With Delta Airlines

Delta Streamlines In-flight Customer Service With New Windows Phone Handheld Devices For Flight Attendants

NFC beyond payments


The spread and adoption of NFC seems to be gaining momentum in the industry, with a number of terminals either supporting or having the intention to support the technology. With the exception of Apple, who still have to make a move in this space, most SmartPhone manufacturers are already shipping NFC-enabled devices, updated list can be checked here.

With strong support from key industry players like Visa or MasterCard, and with Google redefining the whole payments ecosystem, the late 2011 and early 2012 will see the consolidation of NFC as a standard feature in mid to high-end SmartPhones. Yet more to see if Apple decides to include the technology in their yet-to-be-seen iPhone 5.

While contactless payments will continue to be the source of growth for a number of years, however there are many other uses and applications that are strongly emerging, which promise a bright future for this technology. NFC is here to stay.

SmartPhones have been gradually conquering other devices space, replacing your agenda, phone, photo and video camera, business card holder… and even computer with very advanced applications being available out there in the respective appstores. The next thing to come is clearly your wallet, changing your old-fashioned plastic credit cards for their virtual counterparts.

Cash Cards have been successfully implemented in some markets, whilst others are still hesitant to make use of them. The burden of balance top-up is still something to be resolved. NFC can boost the usage of these, as they are really convenient for day to day micro payments where a contactless, signatureless payment can be really convenient. Vending machines, public transportation, paying a taxi or your coffee at Starbucks are likely to be done with a cash card, which now you will be able to store in your SmartPhone. And guess what, recharge it directly from your banking account too!.

But there is room for NFC beyond payments.

Merchants offering loyalty cards, with or without stored value can benefit of this technology. You have loyalty cards from a couple of airlines, half a dozen hotels, your favorite coffee shop and a myriad of other merchants. Now all of them can fit comfortably in your NFC-enabled phone, and you can easily track your points, miles and rewards easily in one single place.

Access Control through NFC

Access Control through NFC

Access control

Modern houses use cards and readers to access doors and gates instead of traditional keys, pretty much like you would see in any hotel. Wouldn’t it be nice to use your SmartPhone to access home?. And it would not stop here, home automation might be one of the next things to be conquered by your SmartPhone, so start guessing the possibilities here.

Anywhere requiring identification in the form of a card can benefit of NFC for access control, so will no longer have to carry your identification badge with you. Your phone does.

Information sharing

The next best thing is information sharing. In the era of Social Media, it is all about sharing. Also in the physical world, where you are likely to exchange your business card when you meet someone, give your phone number or your facebook profile to someone you just met, or leave your card to participate in the next lucky draw. All of them can now be done by putting your phone close enough, so you can transfer your contact details, social media profiles or leave a reduced version of your contact details on a merchant. How many times have you been asked to write down the same contact details on a hotel at check-in?. Guess what, never again.

And the last, yet best

Angry Birds Magic

Angry Birds Magic

It had to be Rovio and in had to be Angry Birds to give us the latest example of NFC. The latest version of their ultra-popular game, still only available on the new NFC-enabled Nokia C7,

allows gamers to contact other gamers to unlock new levels of the addictive game. Fun?.

The NFC Ecosystem


Mobile Payments through NFC

Mobile Payments

The technology

From a technology point of view, NFC (Near Field Communications) might not imply a great revolution. In a nutshell, it is an evolution of the RFID shortfield technology that has been in use for years now, adding the possibility of bidirectional communications. With RFID, your device could send some data to the receiver, but no dialogue was possible, allowing for very simple, low value applications.

So being an improvement from RFID, there is nothing too fancy about it as a technology feature. Smartphones today support various types of communications which serve different purposes, like their Wi Fi support, 3G and Bluetooth. So what is NFC bringing to the party?. The main beauty might be in its own nature. It is near field, which means it has very short range, typically up to 4 inches. This has a double advantage, first, it makes it more difficult to intercept (even though it is not impossible) and secondly, it demands very little power from the device.

Finally a solution that allows communication between two devices positioned close enough in a reasonably private manner, that demands very little space and power. How is this little thing becoming the next big thing in Mobile?.

Payments, payments and payments

A number of industries are really excited about the massive introduction of this technology in our devices. Key players from Device Manufacturers, Carriers, Financial Services Institutions, Internet giants, all of them are making their moves in the adoption of this technology. Samsung is including NFC chips in their latest Smartphones, while Google’s wallet makes use of NFC chips to replace your old fashioned plastic credit card. Even AT&T, Verizon and T-Mobile have teamed to create the ISIS commerce network supporting NFC payments.

In essence, the NFC chip can communicate with the point of sales device in the merchant, transmitting the necessary information so that the payment transaction can be performed, exactly as you would do with your standard credit card. Typically there will be an application in your smartphone that allows you to store your credit and debit cards information in a secure manner, and that requests a PIN number in order to access that information, securing the usage of the virtual card stored in your phone.

These applications would also allow for your card issuer to provision your card over the air onto your phone.

So far it looks interesting and convenient, but not a killer app. Even if we consider that credit card fraud due to card cloning might be more difficult with the introduction of NFC than it is today, at least for the moment.

Payments

Payments

The real beauty

It is not that you replace the plastic, it is that a whole new channel is opened, allowing Merchants and Financial Institutions to enrich the moment of the payment and use that interaction with the customer to add value, link and increase customer loyalty.

The combination of a chip for performing the physical payment transaction and an application driving the process, is the real beauty behind the NFC application to mobile payments. Now you can have coupons or virtual vouchers delivered by the merchant to your phone at any time, that you can redeem to make part of the payment. What about promotional codes delivered to your phone?. Points redemption, loyalty cards… All become now part of the ecosystem surrounding the little chip, to make the most of every time you tap your phone to pay.

Google seems to have understood pretty well the broader boundaries of what NFC is bringing to the table, with products like Wallet and Offers, which cover the whole range of services for Businesses to make the most out of the new technology. Add this to geolocation and in-door location and you can start to explore the benefits of pushing offers to the potential customers that are on the surroundings of your store, which they can instantly redeem at the moment of payment.

Adoption

It will be some years for this technology to be massively present, with a conservative prediction being that it would be present in 50% of the phones by 2014. So we seem to be giving the first steps on this thrilling technology, both on the physical availability of the technology on our devices and on the number of applications we will see coming and sophisticating not only the payments process itself, but the whole relationship between Businesses, Merchants and Customers.

Thrilling, at the very least.

Indoor Location and Visitor Tracking


Now that geolocation is massively present in our lives, and used on lots of mobile applications, a new hot topic in mobile technology seems to be coming. It is indoor, short range location.

Indoor located & tracked shopping cart

Indoor located & tracked shopping cart

Some time ago I discovered that in a popular supermarket in Singapore the shopping carts had an LCD screen that showed information relevant to the section you were walking through at that point in time. At first I thought “well, the latest form of publicity in the kingdom of advertisement”, something fancy, but just that. Or was it something else?. Are they just showing you offers that are at the reach of your fingertips, or are they doing something else?. What if they are tracking the movements of the cart by some sort of indoor-GPS so they can know what are the shopping and movement patterns of the visitors?.

This seems like a very interesting application to every public space that receives visitors or customers, as it provides a very useful and detailed insight of the movements of the visitors within the space, also being able to detect hot spots that draw visitors attention, what are the places, on the other hand, that are barely visited, and many other parameters that define the analytics of how users move themselves in any open space.

So probably these guys are not just offering me the current promotion on house wines as I walk by the spirits section, but they are actually tracking, recording, and analyzing all my movements in the store. This way they can know where do I spend more time, whether I come back to a section where I have been before, maybe indicating the products are not too clearly shown as I needed to come back and find something.

The technology seems to be very interesting in its practical applications, but in this particular case it is very probably based on RFID, which means that each cart probably has a passive RFID and they have a number of receivers in the store to track our movements. Not rocket science, definitely, but a very intelligent way of having some insight onto an otherwise very complex problem to resolve.

Removing the cart

Having recognized the value of indoor location and visitor tracking, we can imagine a lot of applications for this, virtually anywhere subject to receiving visits of customers. Airports, Supermarkets, any type of stores, even bank branches can benefit of this to optimize resources and know what are the patterns that drive customer behaviour in real life interactions -as opposed to virtual interactions over the internet, which are much easier to track-.

But the fundamental limitation seems to be how do we stick our customers and visitors to an RFID. Easy in the case of a supermarket where you are very likely to pick a shopping cart, but complicated in many other situations. However, there seems to be some possibilities in using three forms of signals that your mobile phone can be publicly sharing: TMSI (Temporary Mobile Subscriber Identity), Bluetooth and Wi Fi. Whilst Bluetooth and Wi Fi depend on the user having this feature activated on the phone, they are quite good sources of information to perform indoor tracking.

However the first one seems to have a broader application, as it is first anonymous, resolving the traditional privacy issue of location and tracking, and second, is always active. It is based on a regular communication all mobiles perform with their base stations in order to report their location. These communications can be picked by indoor antennas and can be used for locating the position of the user with a precision down to 1-2 m. Good enough isn’t it?.

There is a very interesting paper that describes this technology in detail as well as providing a pilot study with very interesting results. As stated in the paper, this is the having Google Analytics for real life customer interactions…