Month: August 2014

Introducing ‘Nearables’; the love child of iBeacons & the Internet of Things

There’s been a lot of talk about iBeacons since they came onto the scene late last year with tech-savvy retailers hoping that they can live up to the hype and finally provide them with a way of utilizing those handy little devices we all carry around in our pockets and transform them into virtual personal shoppers.

While we haven’t seen many great examples of this in the real world just yet, one of the companies that has become synonymous with the iBeacon concept, Estimote (a quick Google Image search for “iBeacons” reveals pretty much exclusively their product), is already onto their second product iteration. Although the bluetooth location beacon that they released last year was not exactly clunky, most of the use cases that were highlighted seemed to involve it being placed in a static location such as the wall of a retail outlet.

With the company this week announcing that they have made the device smaller and thinner and affixed it to a sticker, something that can effectively be worn, it opens up a whole host of further use cases that fall firmly into the Internet of Things realm. Each ‘sticker’ includes an accelerometer to track motion, a temperature sensor, security authentication and a Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) transmitter that works up to 70 meters with the battery lasting up to a year. Estimote describe these sticker beacons as ‘Nearables’.

As well as being used in a retail capacity to give customers information on products that they come into contact with, the stickers can monitor an object’s movements so you can keep track of your pets or personal items, or map your bicycle route or trip to work etc. Smartphones and other devices can detect where they are in relation to the beacon stickers, giving them added context. For example, if your smartphone realizes that it’s in your bedroom (i.e. it is near your bedroom beacon) and you have an early meeting and the traffic is particularly bad, it will wake you up earlier.

I don’t think we’ll really start seeing these things making their way into the mainstream for another couple of years yet, but with other companies like Nest and Smart Things also blazing a trail in this space, the prospects are exciting.

Posted by Rob in Mobile, Retail, Wearables

Amazon has Square & PayPal in it’s sights

Following my post from last week about the imminent entry of the big tech giants to the mobile payment space, it was timely that another one of The Big Four made public their intentions. During the week, Amazon made it clear that they also want a piece of the pie and announced that they plan to launch a suspiciously Square-like mobile card reader and app platform called Amazon Local Register.

And guess what? – they plan to undercut Square and PayPal on the fees they charge retailers by a whole percentage point (1.75% to Square’s 2.75%,and PayPal’s 2.7%). No surprise there then as Amazon have certainly been upping the ante recently when it comes to throwing their weight around, brazenly squeezing their suppliers. They also take a swipe (get it?) at Square’s perceived lack of retailer support by highlighting their ‘awarding-winning’ customer service.

Let the games begin.

Posted by Rob in Amazon, Mobile Payments, Retail, Square

Mobile payments – still playing hard to get after all these years

Despite smartphone penetration continuing to explode around the world, a universal platform for mobile payments has yet to emerge. It seems that each of the last few years has been predicted as the year that mobile payments will finally take-off, and then – nothing.

By mobile payments, I’m talking about smartphone payments specifically, not SMS payments via feature phones which have actually been hugely popular in some emerging markets for years now. I’m not talking about mobile commerce either (i.e. using the mobile web to shop as you would on the desktop). I’m talking about using your phone as a means of making a physical in-store purchase. The technology has been around for years now and is the norm in some parts of Asia as well as being a huge success with some companies in the US (Starbucks makes 14% of their entire sales via mobile in the US!) but has not yet been more readily adopted across the board.

While it would be naïve to think that this year will be the year that mobile payments finally take-off, this has to happen eventually and there have been a couple of hints over the last few weeks that suggest that a mass market push could finally be on the horizon.

Some more of the big boys are joining the party

Although Google have made a couple of attempts at addressing this space, most of the other tech heavy hitters have remained strangely quiet. But that could all be about to change.

Apple has been biding its time over the last few years, choosing to steer clear of NFC, waiting for the right moment to flick the switch on mobile payments, but there has been talk over the last couple of weeks of finally making a move. Apparently, the company is on the verge of launching a mobile wallet that allows users to make physical in-store payments as early as this Autumn. And you can be damn sure that when they do, there will be serious movement in the space. Apple has 800+ million registered credit cards on file with iTunes. EIGHT HUNDRED MILLION! That’s 800+ million accounts that, with a flick of a switch, can automatically facilitate any mobile payments platform that Apple might roll out.

Similarly, there have also been hints from Facebook that the recently unbundled Messenger app will be integrated with mobile payments somewhere down the line too. And this is what it’s going to take really, the big boys joining the party, the platforms where users already have accounts and spend their time making it easy for them to be nudged onto making payments using their phones. And these guys certainly have the user clout to have a real impact here.

tech accounts

The future of mobile payments

Whatever form it takes, a growth in mobile payments is inevitable, however slowly it happens. Business Insider has recently compiled some predictions on the future of the space and gives a few reasons why this year might actually be the year we see some significant growth.

By 2018, both mobile payments and mobile commerce combined are to overtake desktop eCommerce in the US with mobile accounting for over $400 billion of transactions. In-store mobile payments alone are to account for $189bn of this figure, growing from $1.8bn in 2013. That’s 10x growth in five years.

There has so far been a bit of a chicken and egg problem around mobile payments with neither retailers or users seemingly pushing for it. Cash and cards are working just fine for both it seems. But consumers are slowly cutting the cord with cash (debit and credit cards were used more than cash for in-store payments for the first time ever in the US last year), and this is predicted to ease the transition from a consumer behaviour point of view into mobile payments.

From the retailer’s perspective, a rise in mobile card readers (and their corresponding apps) is expected to contribute to an uptake in mobile payments acceptance. 40% of small merchants in the US have already adopted mobile card readers and Square currently process $2.5 billion worth of transactions each month. The fact that Chip and PIN cards are finally being rolled out in the US means that retailers will have to update old systems anyway and more and more of them are expected to acknowledge mobile payment acceptance while doing so.

So could we be on the verge of a mobile payments explosion? We’ll just have to wait and see. While big things might be happening over the next 12 months, it still could be another couple of years until true mainstream adoption takes place.

mobile payments

Posted by Rob in Mobile Payments, Retail

Yo! might not be as big of a joke as people first thought

When news came out back in June of an app that did nothing more than allow users to send push notifications simply saying “Yo!”, people shrugged. There’s an app for everything after all. When it emerged a number of days later that the app had managed to somehow raise funding to the tune of $1 million, they stood up and took notice. How could such a novelty generate such a large amount of funding so soon? Talk of a new internet bubble ensued. Since then, Yo! has been valued at $10 million and, what seemed like the joke of the tech world just a few weeks ago, doesn’t seem so funny now.

It seems that there is more than meets the eye to this concept at least and, while it sounds like a gimmick, those investors weren’t handing over their hard earned cash for nothing. They obviously see some potential presumably around the commercial possibilities of contextual notifications.

While at the moment the app is extremely one dimensional, Yo’s creator Or Arbel argues that it’s all about context. This is where the commercial angle comes in. Arbel highlights the potential examples of Starbucks sending users a Yo! when their coffee is ready, or an airline sending a Yo! to let you know that your visitor’s plane has landed on time or that your package has arrived etc.

I think the most exciting thing about this concept is that it may be able to democratise the humble push notification. At the moment, you can only receive push notifications from apps that you have downloaded (no shit!). But there is surely potential out there for a platform that let’s users receive notifications from organisations when they need certain real-time information without negotiating the mobile web or downloading a new app for each new use case.


Let’s use the package delivery example from above ; I might use DHL once or twice a year for example. Not much point in downloading their app to track my parcel for a service I use so infrequently and which will take up valuable screen real-estate on my mobile. But if I give them my Yo! username, hey presto, I’ll get a quick notification as soon as my package arrives at it’s destination. Similarly, I arrive at a bus stop heading into town. Not one of those fancy new bus stops with a nice screen telling me when the next bus is due, just a plain old regular one. I send a Yo! to the bus stop and it tells me that my bus will be there in 3 minutes. Lovely.

With any platform, building an initial critical mass of users is crucial to it’s success and Yo! seems to be well on it’s way to doing this, mainly due to it’s novelty at the moment but that’s beside the point. That’s not to say that another app can’t come along and steal it’s thunder, but just that Yo! is well placed to take advantage of this area at the moment. The use cases are there, there’s no doubt about that.

There is also some pretty cool potential around ‘push commands’ in the whole Internet of Things space. Imagine sending a Yo! or whatever it might be to your home security system to activate your alarm etc. There’s a lot of players in this area doing pretty sophisticated things like Nest and Smart Things to name but two, but this is more towards the high-end of the market and will work best with your whole house locked in to their ecosystem. A push command system using a Yo! like platform might offer some more open sourced opportunities in the Internet of Things space.

Either way, while the current Yo! app might be a bit of a laughing stock, and rightly so, I believe there is definitely some potential out there in a platform that breathes new life into the plain old push notification.

Posted by Rob in Apps, Design, Mobile