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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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ME and Africa Consumer tech spending to hit $149bn

Reaching $130bn this year, consumer spending on technology in the Middle East and Africa is expected to grow just 4% a year.

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Consumer spending on technology in the Middle East and Africa (MEA) is forecast to total $130.8 billion this year, a year-on-year increase of 4.1%. According to the latest Worldwide Semiannual Connected Consumer Spending Guide from International Data Corporation (IDC), consumer purchases of traditional and emerging technologies will remain strong over the 2019–2023 forecast period, increasing at a five-year compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 3.5% to reach $149.4 billion in 2023.

86.3% of all consumer technology spending in 2019 will be on traditional technologies such as mobile phones, personal computing devices, and mobile telecom services. Mobile telecom services (voice and data) will account for 68.7% of this amount, followed by mobile phones which will account for 26.6%. Spending growth for traditional technologies will be relatively slow, with a CAGR of 2.4% for the 2019–2023 forecast period.

“Faster connectivity, combined with declining data service costs from telecom service providers and the need for end users to use telecom services for an increasing number of devices, will ensure that consumer spending on traditional technologies will continue to grow,” says Fouad Charakla, IDC’s senior research manager for client devices in the Middle East, Turkey, and Africa.

Emerging technologies, including AR/VR headsets, drones, on-demand services, robotic systems, smart home devices, and wearables, will deliver strong growth with a five-year CAGR of 10.2%. This growth will see emerging technologies account for 17.1% of overall consumer spending in 2023, up from 13.7% in 2019. Smart home devices and on-demand services will account for around 93% of consumer spending on emerging technologies by the end of the forecast period.

“The low penetration of smart home devices in the region, combined with growing efforts from market players to educate home users on the benefits and usage of these devices, will serve as an engine of growth for consumer spending on emerging technologies,” says Charakla. “A large portion of end users are already looking to invest in devices that will improve their productivity and quality of life, two key demands that smart home devices can be positioned to fulfil.”

On-demand services represent a new addition to IDC’s Worldwide Semiannual Connected Consumer Spending Guide. “On-demand services enable access to networks, marketplaces, content, and other resources in the form of subscription-based services and includes platforms such as Netflix, Hulu, and Spotify, among others,” says Charakla. “As connected consumers juggle multiple services across their devices, it is essential for technology providers to understand how the adoption of these various technologies and services will impact their customers’ experiences in the future.”

Communication and entertainment will be the two largest use case categories for consumer technology, representing more than 79% of all spending throughout the forecast. More than 70% of all communication spending will go toward traditional voice and messaging services in 2019. Entertainment spending will be dominated by watching or downloading TV, videos and movies, as well as listening to music and downloading and playing online games. The use cases that will see the fastest spending growth over the forecast period are augmented reality games (49.5% CAGR).

The Worldwide Semiannual Connected Consumer Spending Guide quantifies consumer spending for 22 technologies in ten categories across nine geographic regions. The guide also provides spending details for 23 consumer use cases. Unlike any other research in the industry, the Connected Consumer Spending Guide was designed to help business and IT decision makers to better understand the scope and direction of consumer investments in technology over the next five years.

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Could robots replace human tennis players?

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While steeped in tradition, tennis has embraced technology on multiple fronts: coaching, umpiring and fan experiences. Since the early 2000s, the Sony-owned Hawk-Eye system has been assisting tennis umpires in making close calls. At Wimbledon, IBM’s Watson AI analyses fan and player reactions in real-time video footage from matches to create highlight reels just minutes after the end of a match.

Meanwhile, at the ATP Finals in London, similar data analysis is being carried out by digital services and consulting firm Infosys.

GlobalData’s Verdict deputy editor Rob Scammell hears the future of tennis discussed at a recent panel discussion about the use of data analytics and technology in the game.

Scammel writes: “Infosys has been partnered with ATP for five years, providing features such as its cloud-based platform, which leverages artificial intelligence to analyse millions of data points to gain insights into the game.

“Players and coaches can also make use of the Infosys’ Players and Coaches Portal, allowing them to “slice and dice” matches on an iPad with 1,000 data analytics combinations. This is data crunching is vital according to Craig O’Shannessy, strategy analyst for the ATP World Tour and a coach for 20 years – including for the likes of Novak Djokovic. 

O’Shannessy says: “Video and data analytics is crucial for giving players an edge. It’s about finding out of 100 points, the 10 or 15 that matter the most, and explaining that these are the patterns of play that you want to repeat in these upcoming games to win those matches.”

However, although Chris Brauer, director of innovation at the Institute of Management Studies at Goldsmiths, University of London, asked whether the “inevitable conclusion” of technological innovations in tennis was removing humans from the game entirely. ATP chair umpire and manager Ali Nili suggested that while there could one day be robot players adjudicated by robot umpires, it would be an entirely different sport.

Nili told GlobalData: “At ATP, we’re most proud of our athletes. It’s our athletes which make the tennis exciting. It’s how fast they are, how strong they are being. As humanbeings, we compare them to us and we’re fascinated by the things that they’re able to do. They’re the number one attraction for anyone who comes in, watches tennis, and everything else is secondary, you know, all the data and everything else, because we try to make our athletes more appealing.”

Could robots replace human tennis players?

Raghavan Subramanian, associate vice president and head of Infosys Tennis Platform, says it’s a “very philosophical question” and that we can look to the precedent set by other ‘man vs machine’ face-offs.

“In chess, we had [Garry] Kasparov play against the computer. So I think the natural first transition will not be two robots playing against each other, but one robot, possibly playing against the best player today. That’s the first possible bridge before two robots play.”

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