Sep 152014
 
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The future of retail is being fought out on three fronts believes eBay’s Michael Camplin  — global, local, mobile and data.

At eBay’s Commerce Innovation Showcase at its San Jose head office Champlin shows visiting partners, media and government officials part of the payments giant’s vision for that future.

“It’s about connecting buyers and sellers across the globe,” says Champlin. “Local is important for us because even with the growth of the online ecommerce revolution that we’re in the middle of right now we still see 75% of commerce happens within fifty miles of the customer and 90% of that happens in bricks-and-mortar stores.”

“So to be able to connect buyers and sellers in those local stores is a major push we have at eBay.”

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The first presentation in the tour demonstrates a day in the life of an eBay customer from the bedroom of a fictional customer, Reese McLaren, a funky young guy shopping for new equipment ahead of a camping trip. Champlin illustrates how Reese can order, pay and collect through a store’s integrated online service from his home.

On the other side of the transactions, store employees use the PayPal apps like Red Lazer and Braintree to complete the order. A key part of that is using beacon technologies to log a customer into the store to alert staff that a customer has arrived to collect an order.

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At the next stage of the tour, we visit some demonstration stores; first we start with the Burger Bistro where eBay’s Eric Armstrong shows how restaurant’s point of sale system is integrated with PayPal services, showing waitstaff who is logged in through the company’s app.

Integrating PayPal’s services into the establishment’s point of sale system means customers can order through the PayPal Wallet service and waitstaff know if a customer has paid through the app.

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The app also speeds up settling customers’ bills as diners can pay the check through their phone and not bother with using cash or swiping credit cards.

One key point with PayPal Wallet is that users can enter any payment form that suits them and choose whichever option suits them at the time including direct bank transfers and credit cards.

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Another area that PayPal are pushing out are coupon offers. At present the company is subsidising them as they test how the services work. The objective is to offer a digital equivalent of everything people currently have in their wallets.

For staff, eBay are offering the ability to bring your own device for point of sale systems with cloud base apps turning staffs’ tablets and smartphones into POS terminals.

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Tying into the Point of Sale capability is the PayPal Now service that allows establishments to swipe credit cards directly into the app through a dongle that reads the chip or stripe. Despite the rise of online payment services, swiping credit cards is still the main way US customers pay their bills.

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Despite the continued popularity of credit cards, eBay are hoping to move customers over to the online services through ease of service; the one stop authentication service means customers are logged into the payment platform as soon as they check into a location.

One area PayPal sees great opportunity in stadiums and major events where attendees automatically check in and can then access food and souvenir stands without having to re-authenticate or authorise each purchase they make.

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A key part of eBay’s retail strategy is the use of beacons to monitor customers entering establishments. The one illustrated is the PayPal beacon that was a limited release earlier this year. The device doesn’t have its own battery, instead relying on a USB socket for power.

Two weeks after this tour Apple launched its Pay service with its range of integrated APIs to offer many of things shown in this showcase. eBay and its Braintree subsidiary was conspicuously missing from the listed partners.

For PayPal and eBay the field has suddenly become more competitive, this is a sector that is now at the forefront of the battle between today’s internet empires.

Sep 102014
 
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As expected, Apple announced their new range of iPhones and a smart watch today with many digital trees being felled as the tech media falls over to describe all the shiny features of the new devices.

Buried in Apple’s announcements though are the company’s real long game in payments and the Internet of Things.

For the IoT, the various ‘kits’ Apple have announced in the last year — HomeKit, HealthKit and now CloudKit — are the serious plays in this space as they bundle together programs, devices and data streams across health and smarthome applications.

CloudKit moves Apple onto another level as it makes it easier for developers to build back end applications that tie into smart devices; even if someone isn’t using Apple equipment they still may find themselves firmly in the walled garden of Cuptertino.

The long awaiting release of Apple Pay leverages iTunes’ strength as a payment platform, bundling a secure chip into the new iPhone adds to the company’s pitch of being a trusted partner to merchants and payments processors.

What today’s announcements of new hardware, software and APIs indicate is Apple’s shoring up the perimeters of its walled garden.

For it’s competitors, this raises the ante; Google Wallet has nothing like the market penetration or customer acceptance that iTunes has and earlier this week Amazon effectively admitted the Fire smartphone has been a failure by slashing prices. Facebook has made promising noises about payments but still remains locked in an advertising driven business model.

While there’s no doubt the new iPhone will be a success, although the jury is out on the smart watch, Apple’s real game is in controlling a large part of the payments industry and the internet of things. Today’s announcements are a key step in that strategy.

Aug 202014
 
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“My ambition is to only spend four or five hours in the office,” said Vodafone Australia CEO Iñaki Berroeta when asked at a lunch in Sydney today about how he would like to structure his working day.

For many Australians, this is becoming the reality of work as increasingly their job is following them home and into their social lives according to Microsoft’s Life On Demand white paper released this week.

The blurring of the lines between home and work is no surprise to small business owners, senior executives or those establishing a startup, however according to Microsoft this is becoming normal for the majority of workers.

In their paper, Microsoft found 30% of Australian workers are checking work emails on devices at home before they leave for work and 23% are doing work activities while they are socialising with their friends.

Overall, more than a quarter of Australians work from anywhere which has more than doubled in the last five years.

This is largely due to the rise of tablet computers and accessible wireless broadband. A direct consequence of this is nearly half of commuters work or study while on public transport.

Being able to work on the train, bus or tram is changing the usage of public transport with many commuters preferring to use the usually slower option (at least in Australia) over driving as it’s seen as more productive time. This is a cultural change that governments have been slow to understand.

Equally slow have been many businesses in understanding they have to deploy the tools that allow workers to be efficient while out of the office, this is the whole point of cloud services.

The workplace is changing as mobile internet becomes an expected part of society. How is your businesses catering to both your staff and customers’ needs in the age of the smartphone and tablet computer?

Aug 092014
 
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Much to the irritation of many users both Foursquare and Facebook have split their apps into separate tools.

Fred Wilson of Union Square Ventures, one of the investors in Foursquare, explains the reason for this are that different patterns meant the service had to cater for privacy models which threatened to confuse users.

The risk for both Facebook and Foursquare is that irritated users might give up on the service, it’s a tough balancing act.

Aug 032014
 
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This is the unedited, submitted version of ‘is BlackBerry ripe for a comeback‘ that appeared in Technology Spectator on 30 July, 2014.

“What do we well?” is the question Blackberry CEO John Chen asked when he took the reigns of the Canadian communication company last November.

Chen was speaking on Tuesday at Blackberry’s Security Summit in New York where he and his executive team laid out the company’s roadmap back to profitability.

Since the arrival of the iPhone and Android smartphones, times have been tough for the once iconic business phone vendor as enterprise users deserted Blackberry’s handsets and the company struggled to find a new direction under former CEO Thorsten Heins.

Back to BlackBerry’s secure roots

In Chen’s view, the company’s future lies in its roots of providing secure communications for large organisations, “It became obvious to us that security, productivity and collaboration have to be it.”

“This is not to say we are not interested in the consumer, but we have to anchor ourselves around the enterprise.” Chen said in a clear move distancing himself from his predecessor and products like the ill fated Blackberry Playbook

An early step in this process of focusing on enterprise security concerns is the acquisition of German voice security company Secusmart which was the cornerstone of Chen’s New York keynote.

Blackberry’s acquisition of the company is a logical move says the CEO of Secusmart, Dr Hans-Christoph Quelle, who points out the two organisations have been working closely together for several years.

“It fits perfectly,” says Quelle. “We are not strangers having worked together since 2009,” in describing how Secusmart technology has been increasingly incorporated into Blackberry’s devices.

Secusmart’s key selling point has been its adoption by NATO and European government agencies; the Snowden revelations on the US bugging of Angela Merkel coupled with the Russian FSB leaking intercepted US state department conversations along with the release of Ukrainian separatist conversations after the shooting down of MH17 has focused the European view on the security of voice communications.

Launching new services

Along with the acquisition of Secusmart, Blackberry will also be launching an new enterprise service in November, the new Passport handset in December along with a range of security applications including BlackBerry Guardian, a new service that will scan Android apps for malicious software.

Blackberry’s executives were at pains to emphasise their products aren’t focused on any single smartphone operating system and not dependent on customers buying their smartphones although to get the maximum security benefits.

“We will provide the best level of security possible to as many target devices out there as possible,” said Dan Dodge who heads Blackberry’s QNX embedded devices division.

Longer term plans

In the longer term, Blackberry sees QNX division as being one of the major drivers of future revenues as the Internet of Things is rolled out across industries.

QNX was acquired by Blackberry in 2010 to broadband the communication company’s product range, now it is one of the pillars of the organisation’s future as Chen and his team see that connected devices will need secure and reliable software.

Dodge says: “With the internet of things, you can have devices that can change your world.”

While QNX is best known for its smartcar operating system – it underpins Apple’s CarPlay system being rolled out for BMW as well as its own system deployed in Audis – the company’s products are used for industrial applications ranging from wind turbines to manufacturing plants.

Despite Blackberry’s announcements in New York, the company still facing challenges in the marketplace with the Ford Motor Company announcing earlier this week it will drop the Blackberry for its employees by the end of the year and replace them with iPhones.

Chen’s though is dismissive about Apple’s and IBM’s moves into Blackberry’s enterprise markets, “what we do and what they do is completely different.”

Focusing BlackBerry

The focus for Chen is to differentiate Blackberry and play on its strengths, particularly the four markets it calls ‘regulated industries’ – government, health care, financial and energy that the company claims makes up half of enterprise IT spending.

Whether this is enough to bring Blackberry back on track remains to be seen but Chen says this is where he sees the company’s future, “This is why we are so focused on enterprise and so focused on these pillars.”

For Blackberry, the emphasis on enterprise communications is a step back to the profitable past. It may well be successful as businesses become more security conscious in a post-Snowden world.

Paul travelled to the Blackberry Security Summit in New York as a guest of the company.

Jun 022014
 
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One of the great changes to the telecommunications industry is the rise of video. As part of the Decoding the New Economy video series we had an opportunity to grab a quick chat with Torsten Sauer, Ericsson’s Vice President of Broadcast services.

Video is the great challenge for telecommunications company, broadcasters and consumers with Cisco Systems predicting by 2018 over 50% of internet traffic will be videos.

As designer Gadi Amit told this website a few weeks ago, the problem is compounded as the broadcast world evolves from a three or four screen environment to an almost infinite range of screen sizes and devices.

With most of that traffic being over mobile devices, Sweden’s Ericsson has been adapting to the the industry’s change to mobile video with a series of acquisitions in the broadcast production space. Sauer explained some of the motivations and strategies behind Ericsson’s moves in the industry.

Red Bee Media

Ericsson’s acquisition of British content house Red Bee Media earlier this year is one of the areas where the company is looking at growing its services.

“Consumer behaviour is changing and that represents a huge transformation for the industry,” Sauer says. “We want to be a catalyst for that transformation through providing the right services.”

Along with more traditional fields like basic production services, Sauer sees the company’s opportunity in building the metadata into videos making them more accessible over the very crowded internet.

A multitude of screens

The other key opportunity Sauer sees is that by creating richer content, it becomes easier for creators, broadcasters and advertisers to serve appropriate content to viewers depending upon both their interests and the devices they are using.

“It’s a great opportunity for broadcasters to address new opportunities and revenue streams on different devices and in different locations.”

Sauer’s view ties in with Gadi Amit’s in that the proliferation of ways to watch videos is going to create great opportunities for broadcasters to find different ways to show their work.

The innovation race

With the proliferation of channels, the field isn’t just left to the incumbents with Suaer seeing the entry of new broadcasters as one of the great opportunities.

“There will be a lot of opportunities for a lot of new players, that will create a healthy innovation base. It’s a very exciting time to be in this industry.”

With video marketing exploding, Sauer sees it’s important for non-broadcast businesses to experiment with video; “It’s now the time, business models are not all set and technology models are not all set.”

Just as businesses have to deal with a more mobile marketplace and workforce, we’re also seeing video becoming more important. It’s a great opportunity for businesses to develop new channels.

 

Apr 292014
 
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“Not like everybody else” proclaims Microsoft’s first ad for its newly acquired Nokia phone division.

In what way the Microsoft-Nokia product isn’t like its Apple and Android competitors isn’t clear from the ad, but hopefully they’ll tell us.

The real concern with the Microsoft ad is that it again appears the business is being left behind in a marketplace shift as Google, Samsung, Apple and all the other smartphone leaders move to integrate their phones with smarthomes, fridges and even football stadiums.

Sadly it might turn out that, once again, Microsoft isn’t like everybody else.