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Mobile payments grow up

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The announcement of Samsung Pay, in direct competition with Apple Pay, is a signal that payments with mobile devices are growing up, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK.

Once a year, Barcelona plays host to an event that signals the key shifts in mobile technology, setting the agenda for personal gadgets for the rest of the year. Mobile World Congress 2015, which took over the city for most of last week, pushed the boundaries just a little further than usual.

The most significant announcement of the week was not a device, however, but a new way of doing something as old as civilisation: making payments.

When Samsung unveiled its new Galaxy S6 and S6 Edge, it also declared the next phase in its war with Apple. Back in September, Apple had announced the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus, along with a payment system called Apple Pay. The similarity in names is no coincidence. Samsung wants to make it clear that, not only is it playing in the same space as Apple, but it is doing it better.

Apple Pay works through NFC, or near-field communication, which allows the sending of data from one device to another with a single tap. That data can include files, photos and payment or transactional information, if it has been set up in advance. As a result, a single tap, authenticated via the fingerprint sensor on the iPhone 6, can conclude a transaction at an NFC terminal in a retail outlet.

Samsung Pay goes a step further. While it also offers fingerprint verification and NFC, which is still in limited use in the retail world, it ups the ante with MST, which caters for the vast majority of retailers who still use magnetic stripe card readers.

MST, for magnetic secure transmission, allows a device to be placed alongside a card terminal and send a radio signal that mimics the interaction of the magnetic stripe on a card with the terminal. It instantly allows Samsung Pay to be compatible with any retailer in the world that accepts credit, debit or payment cards.

Samsung’s leapfrog over Apple was made possible by its acquisition, earlier this year, of a company called LoopPay, which describes itself as “the world’s first mobile wallet solution that allows consumers to pay with their mobile devices at most places and leave their wallets at home”.

The LoopPay solution, as it existed prior to last week’s announcement, consisted of a LoopPay App and a LoopPay device, which worked in tandem.

“The App manages and securely stores all payment cards including credit, debit, loyalty, and gift cards on the device,” LoopPay explained. “Currently, we offer the LoopPay Card, CardCase, and a stand-alone Case for iPhone 5/5s, 6, and 6 Plus.”

The company’s explanation of how LoopPay works provided no inkling of the scope of Samsung Pay, as it implied any manufacturer could use it. Samsung turned the market on its head with one simple innovation: it built the LoopPay technology into the Galaxy S6 and S6 Edge, instead of providing an accessory device.

The result is that the phone merely needs the app to be activated for it to run Samsung Pay. It also means that the accessory case for iPhones is almost instantly obsolete.

The service is initially being launched in Samsung’s home territory, South Korea, and in the United States – a direct challenge to Apple. There is no timeframe on its roll-out elsewhere, which suggests Samsung is initially more focused on taking on Apple than on serving consumers.

That is also, most likely, the reason for the cut-and-paste branding of the payment service. It may be the snappiest possible title, but calling it Samsung Pay is also the most sincerest possible form of flattering Apple. If the wheels come off this particular bandwagon, it will be more than a financial disaster for Samsung.

Later this year, American retailers will be required to implement EMV (Europay MasterCard Visa) “chip-and-pin” terminals, which may well have to include NFC technology. That opens the rest of the US market to Apple, but still leaves Samsung with a global edge.

In the meantime, other challengers are likely to emerge. Rumours have already surfaced that LG Electronics will build payment technology into the next version of its flagship phone, to be called the LG G4. Numerous mobile payment applications will also have to change their game or find a way to integrate or add to the two Pay systems.

Google Wallet, which was once expected to dominate mobile payments, is fast fading into the background. Its near-demise is a timely lesson to the Pay masters of the mobile world that market domination in one arena does not automatically lead to market success in another.

* Arthur Goldstuck is founder of World Wide Worx and editor-in-chief of Gadget.co.za. Follow him on Twitter on @art2gee, and subscribe to his YouTube channel at http://bit.ly/GGadgets

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LoopPay on how MST works:

“MST technology generates changing magnetic fields over a very short period of time. This is accomplished by putting alternating current through an inductive loop, which can then be received by the magnetic read head of the credit card reader. The signal received from the device emulates the same magnetic field change as a mag stripe card when swiped across the same read head. LoopPay works within a 3-inch distance from the read head. The field dissipates rapidly beyond that point, and only exists during a transmission initiated by the user.”

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Samsung clears the table with new monitor

For those who like minimalism and tidy desks, Samsung’s new Space Monitor may just do the trick, writes BRYAN TURNER.

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The latest trends of narrow-bezels and minimalist designs have transcended smartphones, spilling into other designs, like laptops and monitors. 

The new Space Monitor line by Samsung follows in this new design “tradition”. The company has moved the monitor off the desk – by clipping it onto the edge of the desk.

It can be put into three configurations: completely upright, where it sits a bit high but completely off the desk; half-way to the desk, where it is a bit lower to put some papers or files underneath the display; and flat on the desk, where it is at its lowest.

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The monitor sits on a weighted hinge at the edge of the desk, providing sturdy adjustment to its various height configurations. It also swivels on a hinge at the point where the arm connects to the display. This provides precise viewing angle adjustment, which is great for showing something on screen to someone who is standing.

Apart from form factor, there are some neat goodies packed into the box. It comes with a two-pin power adapter, with no adapter box on the midpoint between the plug and the monitor, and a single cable that carries HDMI-Y and power to prevent tangling. 

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However, it’s slightly disappointing that there isn’t a Mini Display Port and power cable “in one cable” option for Mac and newer graphics card users, who will have to run two cables down the back of the screen. Even worse, the display doesn’t have a USB Type-C display input; a missed opportunity to connect a Samsung device to the panel.

A redeeming point is the stunning, Samsung-quality panel, which features a 4K UHD resolution. The colours are sharp and the viewing angles are good. However, this display is missing something: Pantone or Adobe RGB colour certification, as well as IPS technology. 

The display’s response rate comes in at 4ms, slightly below average for displays in this price range. 

These negatives aside, this display has a very specific purpose. It’s for those who want to create desk space in a few seconds, while not having to rearrange the room. 

Final verdict: This display is not for gamers nor for graphic designers. It is for those who need big displays but frequently need to clear their desks.

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Can mobile fix education?

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By Ernst Wittmann, global account director for MEA and country manager for Southern Africa, at TCL Communications

Mobile technology has transformed the way we live and work, and it can be expected to rapidly change the ways in which children learn as smartphones and tablets become more widely accepted at primary and high schools. By putting a powerful computer in every learner’s schoolbag or pocket, smartphones could play an important role in improving educational outcomes in a country where so many schools are under-resourced.

Here are some ways that mobile technology will reshape education in the years to come:

Organisation and productivity

For many adults, the real benefit of a smartphone comes from simple applications like messaging, calendaring and email. The same goes for schoolchildren, many of whom will get the most value from basic apps like sending a WhatApp message to friends to check on the homework for the day, keeping track of their extramural calendar, or photographing the teacher’s notes from the blackboard or whiteboard. One study of young people’s mobile phone use in Ghana, Malawi and South Africa confirmed that many of them got the most value from using their phones to complete mundane tasks.

Interactivity

One of the major benefits smartphones can bring to the classroom is boosting learners’ engagement with educational materials through rich media and interactivity. For example, apps like Mathletics use gamification to get children excited about doing mathematics—they turn learning into a game, with rewards for practicing and hitting milestones. Or teachers can set up a simple poll using an app like Poll Everywhere to ask the children in a class what they think about a character’s motivation in their English set-work book.

Personalisation

Mobile technology opens the doors to more personalised and flexible ways to teach and learn, making more space for children to work in their own style and at their own pace. Not very child learns in the same way or excels at the same tasks and subjects – the benefit of mobile phones is that they can plug the gaps for children seeking extra enrichment or those that need some additional help with classroom work.

For example, teachers can provide recommended educational materials for children who are racing in ahead of their peers in some of their subjects. Or they can suggest relevant games for children who learn better through practical application of ideas than by listening to a teacher and taking notes. 

In future, we can expect to see teachers, perhaps aided by algorithms and artificial intelligence, make use of analytics to track how students engage with educational content on their mobile devices and use these insights to create more powerful learning experiences. 

Access

South Africa has a shortage of teachers in key subjects such as mathematics and science, which disproportionately affects learners in poor and rural areas. According to a statement in 2017 from the Department of Basic Education, it has more than 5,000 underqualified or unqualified teachers working around the country. Though technology cannot substitute for a qualified teacher, it can supplement human teaching in remote or poor areas where teachers are not available or not qualified to teach certain subjects. Video learning and videoconferencing sessions offer the next best thing where a math or physical science teacher is not physically present in the classroom.

Information

Knowledge is power and the Internet is the world’s biggest repository of knowledge. Schoolchildren can access information and expertise about every subject under the sun from their smartphones – whether they are reading the news on a portal, watching documentaries on YouTube, downloading electronic books, using apps to improve their language skills, or simply Googling facts and figures for a school project.

Take a mobile-first approach

Technology has a powerful role to play in the South African school of the future, but there are some key success factors schools must bear in mind as they bring mobile devices into the classroom:

  • Use appropriate technology—in South Africa, that means taking a mobile-first approach and using the smartphones many children already know and use.
  • Thinking about challenges such as security – put in place the cyber and physical security needed to keep phones and data safe and secure.
  • Ensuring teachers and children alike are trained to make the most of the tech – teachers need to take an active role in curating content and guiding schoolchildren’s use of their devices. To get that right, they will need training and access to reliable tech support.

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