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Making money fit for the future

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There is a problem with money – it now comes in many forms, but is not fit for the future. That’s going to change, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK.|easy tech

Pepper is not your everyday waiter. He is a robot that can move on its own wheels, taking orders from customers in a restaurant, fetching the food and delivering it to tables. But he’s not just a novelty: over the past year, more than 14 000 units have been deployed in fast food outlets across Japan.

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Its maker, Softbank, builds a thousand every month and sells out as fast it produces them. Pepper has branched out into dentist offices, bathhouses and even life insurance sales.

Pepper’s international breakthrough came in May, when Softbank teamed up with Mastercard to add payment functionality via the Masterpass digital wallet app. It allows customers to pair the app on their smartphones with Pepper, and make payment through a touching a button on their screens or tapping the phone on Pepper.

It is currently being rolled out out mainly by Pizza Hut in its outlets across Asia, but is not going to stick to fast food. Meiji Yasuda Life Insurance in Japan plans to put a hundred Peppers to work as salesrobots at its 80 branches.

Pepper may well look like the future of sales, but in truth is only one of many futures that is beginning to emerge. At the Mastercard Innovation Forum in Budapest last week, where Pepper made an appearance, it was clear that the real secret was not in the artificial intelligence that makes Pepper possible, but in the interfaces that make payments seamless.

According to Michael Miebach, chief product officer at Mastercard, the problem with money is that it no longer works seamlessly, even in the digital area of connected accounts and mobile money apps.

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“The consumer today mainly engages with us through plastic, and some use digital payment factors,” said Miebach in an interview in Budapest. “So the payment experience can be digital, but there are many other experiences around payment that are not connected to each other.

“Take loyalty programmes with frequent flyer miles: to figure out what my mileage is, I have to go onto a website. And I can’t connect it with my card account. So there is a disconnect between all the payment tools. Many of them work well by themselves, but they are not fit for the future.”

This startling statement comes as research reveals it is not only so-called millennials who are ready for digital and connected payment systems. Consumers across the board want to be able to pay on any available channel, at any time, anywhere.

“They want convenience, it must be simple and smart, and it must be secure,” said Miebach. “The most important thing is safety and security, which is not only about preventing theft: it means that the payment must only take place when you want it to, and where you want it. Those needs are universal, for millennials and for older people.”

The initial focus is on what has been around for a long time, namely the existing form factor of the plastic card and how it will evolve, and linking it to what’s happening in the Internet space.

The big push in the United States at present is for the EMV system, named for card associations Europay, Mastercard and Visa. A chip embedded in the EMV card allows for authentication of the transaction on the card itself via a PIN number linked to the chip. South Africa introduced the system a few years ago, but it is only beginning to be a dominant safety standard in the USA.

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It is likely to be followed by a shift to tokenisation, which allows a random string of digits, linked to a card number, to be used once-off for the transaction, so that the card details are not stored by the merchant, and cannot be reused if intercepted.

Then, according to Miebach, “We move all the way to consumer self-authentication, or biometrics, and here it gets really interesting. I believe biometrics will be a critical factor to identify who is paying and who they are paying.”

Many smartphone users are already familiar with biometrics thanks to fingerprint recognition on newer smartphones. However, Miebach believes that facial recognition has the potential to be as big.

At Mobile World Congress in Barcelona in February, Mastercard demonstrated the concept of Selfie Pay, based on many smartphones having a camera that can recognise facial features. Instead of typing in a password, the user selects the Selfie Pay option, takes a photo with the front camera of the phone, and the transaction is authenticated. It’s already in use in California and the Netherlands.

In principle, there is little difference between biometric authentication like fingerprint and facial recognition on the one hand, and voice and iris scans on the other. It all comes down to the platform where the payment is being made, and which is the most natural form of authentication at that moment.

However, even the selfie does not offer enough convenience, says Miebach, as one still has to hold up the phone and take pic.

Raghav Malik, Senior Analyst in Enterprise Security Solutions doing a product demonstration of Identity Check in MasterCard stand at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain, Monday, Feb. 22, 2016. The company displayed the future of payments for devices and wearables. (Carlos Alonso/AP Images for MasterCard)

Raghav Malik, Senior Analyst in Enterprise Security Solutions doing a product demonstration of Identity Check in MasterCard stand at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain, Monday, Feb. 22, 2016. The company displayed the future of payments for devices and wearables. (Carlos Alonso/AP Images for MasterCard)

“How about if you have continuous proof of life, such as heartbeat patterns and continual authentication, based on wearables? It will be very intuitive and consumers won’t even notice it’s happening.”

There is one fundamental reason consumers would embrace this payments future, and why organisations like Mastercard are working so hard to turn it into reality.

“It sure beats the world of today with the range of passwords and user names we need to remember,” says Miebach. “That’s like having to guess who you are every time you make a payment.”

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  • Arthur Goldstuck is founder of World Wide Worx and editor-in-chief of Gadget.co.za. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram on @art2gee

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Low-cost wireless sport earphones get a kickstart

Wireless earphone brands are common, but not crowdfunded brands. BRYAN TURNER takes the K Sport Wireless for a run.

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As wireless technology becomes better, Bluetooth earphones have become popular in the consumer market. KuaiFit aspires to make them even more accessible to more people through a cheaper, quality product, by selling the K Sport Wireless Earphones directly from its Kickstarter page

KuaiFit has an app by the same name which offers voice-guided personal training services in almost every type of exercise, from cardio to weight-lifting. A vast range of connectivity to third-party sensors is available, like heart rate sensors and GPS devices, which work well with guided coaching. 

The app starts off with selecting a fitness level: beginner, intermediate and advanced. Thereafter, one has the ability to connect with real personal trainers via a subscription to its paid service. The subscription comes free for 6 months with the earphones, and R30 per month thereafter. 

The box includes a manual, a USB to two USB Type B connectors, different sized soft plastic eartips and the two earphone units. Each earphone is wireless and connects to the other independently of wires. This puts the K Sport Wireless in the realm of the Apple Earpods in terms of connection style. 

The earphones are just over 2cm wide and 2cm high. The set is black with a light blue KuaiFit logo on the earphone’s button. 

The button functions as an on/off switch when long-pressed and a play/pause button when quick-pressed. The dual-button set-up is convenient in everyday use, allowing for playback control depending on which hand is free. Two connectivity modes are available, single earphone mode or dual earphone mode. The dual earphone mode intelligently connects the second earphone and syncs stereo audio a few seconds after powering on. 

In terms of connectivity, the earphones are Bluetooth 4.1 with a massive 10-meter range, provided there are no obstacles between the device and the earphones. While it’s not Bluetooth 5, it still falls into the Bluetooth Low Energy connection category, meaning that the smartphone’s battery won’t be drastically affected by a consistent connection to the earphones. The batteries within the earphones aren’t specifically listed but last anywhere between 3 and 6 hours, depending on the mode. 

Audio quality is surprisingly good for earphones at this price point. The headset style is restricted to in-ear due to its small design and probable usage in movement-intensive activities. As a result, one has to be very careful how one puts these earphones, in because bass has the potential of getting reduced from an incorrect in-ear placement. In-ear earphones are usually notorious for ear discomfort and suction pain after extended usage. These earphones are one of the very few in this price range that are comfortable and don’t cause discomfort. The good quality of the soft plastic ear tip is definitely a factor in the high level of comfort of the in-ear earphone experience.

Overall, the K Sport Wireless earphones are great considering the sound quality and the low price: US$30 on Kickstarter.

Find them on Kickstarter here.

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Taxify enters Google Maps

A recent update to Taxify now uses Google Maps which allows users to identify their drivers, find public transport and search for billing options.

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People planning their travel routes using Google Maps will now see a Taxify icon in the app, in addition to the familiar car, public transport, walking and billing options.

Taxify started operating in South Africa in 2016 and as of October 2018 operates in seven South African cities – Johannesburg, Ekurhuleni, Tshwane, Cape Town, Durban, Port Elizabeth and Polokwane.

Once riders have searched for their destination and asked the app for directions, Google Maps shares the proximity of cars on the Taxify platform, as well as an estimated fare for the trip.

If users see that taking the Taxify option is their best bet, they can simply tap on the ‘Open app’ icon, to complete the process of booking the ride. Customers without the app on their device will be prompted to install Taxify first.

This integration makes it possible for users to evaluate which of the private, public or e-hailing modes of transport are most time-efficient and cost-effective.

“This integration with Google Maps makes it so much easier for users to choose the best way to move around their city,” says Gareth Taylor, Taxify’s country manager for South Africa. “They’ll have quick comparisons between estimated arrival times for the different modes of transport, as well as fares they can expect to pay, which will help save both time and money,” he added.

Taxify rides in Google Maps are rolling out globally today and will be available in more than 15 countries, with South Africa being one of the first countries to benefit from this convenient service.

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