Glass Demo

I am wary of demos of unfinished products. By the time these products hit the market, the scope is considerably reduced and they end up being a ..meh :( I hope Google Glass isn’t one of them, but comparing yesterday’s and the last year’s videos tell kind of the same story. For most part, it still looks like a wearble camera (Go Pro-ve me wrong!). If the voice UI works well, that would be game-changer.

Last year:


This year:

Next year: Google buys Go Pro and launches Glass Pro?

A Smart Car

Tesla Test Drive

speedmph0

I have been following, with much enjoyment, the New York Times vs. Tesla Motors spat over a review that a NYT reporter wrote last week. Elon Musk wrote a great rebuttal on Tesla Motors’ blog. And he showed car logs (two of them above) to prove that the review was biased and false. Looking at the logs, its not far fetched to imagine all cars will show their performance in graphs and charts in the near future.

+1

From Tim Cook’s letter announcing the latest reorganization at Apple last week:

Jony Ive will provide leadership and direction for Human Interface (HI) across the company in addition to his longtime role as the leader of Industrial Design. Jony has an incredible design aesthetic and has been the driving force behind the look and feel of our products for more than a decade. The face of many of our products is our software and the extension of Jony’s skills into this area will widen the gap between Apple and our competition.

Sir Jony

Sir Jony Ive needs no introduction

Ive’s industrial design work has been one of the key drivers of Apple’s rebirth. His relentless, iterative focus on simplification of form and function under an aesthetic budget is legend. From Bondi blue iMac to iconic iPods to flatscreen iMacs to iPhones to iPads, his signature is unmistakable.

What’s not publicly known is…

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Surface Impressions

:)

* I can touch the screen! If I get stuck, I use the screen to tap and it feels totally natural.
* The trackpad on the touchcover has multi-touch gestures (that’s a mouthful!)

:(

* Keys on the cover don’t move. So there’s no tactile feedback. Typing isn’t all that better than tapping a glass display.
* Can’t see myself using Surface in portrait mode. It’s too long to hold. The form-factor makes it look like a mini-keyboard than a display.
* The much-hyped sound that the kickstand makes when closed (see the Surface keynote) isn’t all that great. Its a feeble click.
* Back of Surface leaves fingerprints (Magnesium clearly isn’t the best choice there).

Mobile Payments

Mobile payments is all that the tech media can talk about lately. Japan is being hailed as an advanced and mature market for mobile payments. People have been using mobile payments before the first iPhone launched. So I dug a little deeper and what I found broke quite a few myths. But before going to Japan, let me first explain the ecosystem of mobile payments (important later).

Key players – What do they want?

There is a well-defined value chain with extremely diverging interests. Here are the big five and their motivations-

1 Banks/ Associations (VISA, Mastercard)
Maintain volume of transactions that happens with cards today. Example: Visa Wallet and serve by AmEx.

2 Retail/ Merchants
* Lower transaction fee and drive costs down
* Leverage mobile technology for promotions and sales

3 Mobile Operators
Grow additional revenue areas. Example: Isis, a US carriers’ collaboration

4 OEMs
Drive sales. Example: Google Wallet

5 Consumers
How is this significantly better than the card?

History of mobile payments in Japan

Japan (Pop. 127 million) has 100 million mobile users, 90%  of which are non-smartphone users. This stat has since come down to 80% during the last year. Mobile payments based on RFID have been around since 2004. Here’s a brief timeline of how mobile payments evolved in Japan-

Late 1980s- Sony developed FeliCa technology (short for Felicity Card) RFID smart card system. After 7+ years of failed field tests, it was finally adopted as a reloadable, pre-paid card in 2001 to be used in train stations. At this stage, phones were not linked to payments. In 2004, RFID-based POS systems started appearing in convenience stores like 7/11 at train stations. Merchants paid 1-4% to receive e-money payments. For majority of non-smartphone users, Japanese carriers sold RFID and NFC stickers which could be pasted on phones to enable mobile shopping. User adoption started slowly.

In 2006 DoCoMo, the Japanese carrier, became part-owner of FeliCa technology and announced Mobile Suica, the mobile wallet service. DoCoMo also entered the credit business by purchasing a bank, eliminating the conflict that might otherwise exist between a mobile carrier and a bank (for example, over who “owns” the customer or which company receives the revenue). User adoption still did not see a major jump. Other companies started adopting mobile payments too. In 2008, McDonalds announced mobile coupons at some outlets in Tokyo.

In 2010, loyalty, coupons, points were introduced into the Mobile Suica. This brought the big adoption change that everyone was waiting for. “If it weren’t for points or promotions, adoption would be drastically lower”, DoCoMo said. “We should have emphasized promotions and other reward programs a lot earlier than we did”. Total userbase for Mobile Suica at this point- 2.5M.

As seen in the graph, handset penetration is faster than user penetration is faster than store penetration.

Summary

1 Consumer adoption takes time, even among a tech-savvy population.
2 Key components is controlled by one company. DoCoMo was the mobile carrier, retailer and financial institution.
3 Retailers do not want to spend millions on an POS system upgrade when there is no user demand.
4 Mobile payments does not need smartphones. Until costs of smartphones come down, OEMs should think of innovative ways to enable most users to enable payments on any phone.

As Gartner’s hype cycle shows below, the expectations for mobile payments is at fever pitch right now. But its still years away from mass adoption. Till that time, companies like Square are doing a great job at showing how to use mobile devices and existing cards for payments.

Companies pushing for NFC should think about new ways of rewarding users for paying through their phone. Here’s another interesting article on Wired on when will phones replace your wallets.

(click on image for larger view)