Posts tagged Apple

Apple Might Tap Old Tech For Mobile Payments

I rarely buy things in stores with cash anymore. Between mobile apps and credit cards, there’s very little need.

Apple reportedly wants to streamline that experience even further—by using a technology many had given up for dead.  

Wired’s sources tell it that the iPhone maker is putting NFC wireless chips in its next new smartphone, presumably to allow for mobile payments. The Financial Times says that Apple is working with NXP, a Dutch chipmaker which already supplies some components to Apple.

If that’s true, iPhone users would be able to tap their devices on terminals in stores, on buses and other places to pay for things, check in or transmit information. 

This once sounded like an intriguing concept … back in 2007. That’s when the first cell phone—the Nokia 6131—came out boasting NFC. Since then, other devices have supported it, such as LG, Samsung and Google Nexus phones. But Apple has been a holdout, a factor which many have pointed to as crippling NFC acceptance. Retailers weren’t interested in a technology which only a small set of phones had installed, and consumers weren’t interested in a newfangled payment method which wasn’t widely accepted and was harder than just swiping a plastic card.

The question now is not whether Apple has the juice to blow the dust off this technology. The real question is why now.

The Rise And Fall Of NFC

NFC, short for near-field communications, is a variation of RFID, a technology used in keycards, transit passes, and other devices. While RFID devices varied in range and had security problems, NFC improved on older standards by requiring a physical tap and specifying better protection for data.

NFC can run without power, so a dead phone battery wouldn’t have you panhandling for lunch money. (Most systems require a live Internet connection for payments over a certain amount, though.) Its mix of hardware and software can even separate sensitive data like credit-card detailsfrom the rest of your phone in case the device is hacked. 

For years, that exciting premise fueled rumors that Apple would put NFC in the iPhone. That never materialized, even as competitors put it in some Android and Windows devices. 

Consumers and tech innovators gave NFC the cold shoulder—too complicated, too subject to carriers’ controls. Square and PayPal bypassed it altogether, using other ways to securely identify customers. Google Wallet’s NFC payment option has been all but dead on arrival, killed by a lack of support from carriers. An industry consortium, the unfortunately named Isis, has had similar problems. 

And retailers like Best Buy and 7-Eleven have reportedly ditched their initial support for NFC, switching to simpler mobile-payment technologies like barcode scanning—a solution Starbucks, Square, and PayPal have all embraced as compatible with existing cash registers and familiar to consumers and cashiers.

Too Late Or Just In Time?

Meanwhile, Apple has been quietly keeping an eye on NFC. The company has filed related patents, one of which was discovered as recently as last January

After all this time, Apple CEO Tim Cook and his crew might be finally ready to pursue tap-to-pay as another iPhone payment option. And this timing makes some sense, when you consider what the company has been up to lately. It launched Passbook, the location-aware app that slaps coupons and other things on screen when you’re near a store; Bluetooth-based iBeacons, for in-store customer tracking; and Touch ID, a fingerprint scanner, in the iPhone 5S. 

Apple also loves to mention its hundreds of millions of credit cards on file in the iTunes store—though processing its own credit-card transactions at retail are a far different beast than processing transactions for other retailers, where all kinds of complications arise from fraud, disputes, and payment glitches.

Even so, several pieces in Apple’s mobile payments jigsaw puzzle are in place, ready to lock together in a system that knows when you’re approaching a store, can send a promotion to you based on the aisle you’re in, and authenticate you when it’s time to purchase. All it needs now is a way to conduct the actual transaction.

With NFC, that would mean bumping an iPhone to an NFC-ready terminal to transmit payment details. 

Although Apple doesn’t even use it in its own stores— people can pay directly for accessories and other gear from the Apple Store mobile app and walk out with the item, no waiting required—it offers a nice alternative for retailers not ready to ditch the time-honored transaction ritual. 

Striking While The Iron Is Hot

There is no doubt that people have become accustomed to shopping with their phones. 

But most of that so-called “m-commerce” is people engaging in conventional e-commerce, using phones or tablets instead of laptops. Players like PayPal cite big numbers for their mobile transactions, deliberately conflating in-store retail payments with e-commerce that’s just shifting to different devices.

And it’s far from clear that retail payments are broken. Most consumers seem perfectly happy swiping plastic cards. PayPal and Square have put an emphasis on ordering ahead with their mobile apps, a scenario where it makes sense to bypass the conventional card swipe.

Where phone-based mobile payments may matter most, though, are markets that are far from home for Apple.

Apple cares deeply about making inroads in China. Smartphone users there are voracious mobile shoppers. Chinese tech site TechNode reported figures from the People’s Bank of China, revealing that mobile payments in the country amounted to nearly $1.6 trillion in transactions last year. 

Granted, this figure covers online purchases, in-store payments using mobiles, and person-to-person money transfers—so while it’s an eye-popping figure, it doesn’t really correlate with the potential market for NFC.

Other reports indicate NFC transactions account for a small slice of phone-based shopping in China. The reason: There just aren’t many opportunities to pay with a phone tap. Apple could change that by galvanizing the market and persuading retailers to take a risk on NFC.

Ultimately NFC may matter for more than just payments. Apart from shopping, NFC could also deliver convenience features in smart homes, cars and health devices, which are all areas that Apple’s already addressing. 

Apple has a knack for taking ho-hum technologies and turning them into hot, in-demand products. That’s sort of its specialty. The signs indicate it’s finally ready to try its Midas touch on NFC. It won’t be long until we know for sure. 

Lead photo by Incase

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Apple Confirms: It’s Holding An Event On September 9

Apple confirmed that it will be holding a special event on September 9 in its hometown of Cupertino, Calif. 

The company’s coy teaser, “Wish we could say more,” leaves us wondering what we can expect here. If rumors hold true, we’ll see new iPhones (which may include NFC mobile payments), iOS updates and even the long-awaited and hotly-debated Apple wearable device. 

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Apple Event September 9th: “Wish We Could Say More”

Apple confirmed that it will be holding a special event on September 9th in its hometown of Cupertino. 

The company’s coy teaser, “Wish we could say more,” leaves us asking, what can we expect there? If rumors hold true, we’ll see new iPhones (which may include NFC mobile payments), iOS updates and even the long-awaited and hotly-debated Apple wearable device. Who’s ready?

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Ahead Of The iWatch, Apple Has Given HealthKit A Workout

ReadWriteBody is an ongoing series where ReadWrite covers networked fitness and the quantified self.

When Apple first unveiled HealthKit, its software for weaving together fitness apps, wearables, and iPhones, there were more breathless exclamations than you’d find in your average SoulCycle workout.

I was quick to deflate the hype around HealthKit, pointing out that the skimpy specs and documentation Apple released this summer showed that it was geared around fairly specific medical tasks, like recording a body-temperature reading from your armpit—not the needs of fitness-app makers.

Since then, Apple executives have been busy taking meetings with fitness-focused developers, and the most recent beta release of iOS 8, the next version of its iPhone software, suggests that HealthKit could actually be a helpful workout buddy.

Crucially, Apple introduced new data types and functions in HealthKit for logging workouts earlier this month that didn’t exist in its first release. HealthKit apps can now log workout type, duration, and calories burned.

Even medically-oriented apps can capture more meaningful data now. Samir Damani, a cardiologist and CEO of MD Revolution, a fitness-app maker, pointed out to me that the first version of HealthKit didn’t capture data like a user’s body-fat percentage, which clinical studies have shown is a better predictor of fitness than weight or body-mass index. In its latest update, HealthKit now includes body-fat statistics as a metric.

In this regard, Apple is playing catch-up with Google, whose Google Fit software tools launched with far more developed workout-related features, and a better structure for adding new data types based on Android.

The latest reports suggest that Apple will announce a wearable device, the so-called “iWatch,” in September—earlier than previously expected. The only clue to its function in Apple’s documentation is HealthKit’s ability to record heart-rate data from a wrist-based device.

HealthKit also records sleep-quality information, distinguishing whether you’re in bed or actually asleep—data that devices like the Jawbone Up, Fitbit, and Runtastic Orbit can collect.

The question, though, is what Apple will do with all this data, whether it comes off an iWatch or other wearables that interact with HealthKit.

“It’s not in Apple’s DNA to interpret data,” says MD Revolution’s Damani. That will be up to HealthKit-ready apps.

It’s a healthy sign, though, that Apple is making such rapid progress in fleshing out HealthKit, and going beyond just vital signs that a nurse might collect in a doctor’s office to the real signals of a healthy body that we produce when we work out.

Photo via Shutterstock

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Amazon’s Cloud Is So Pervasive, Even Apple Uses It

Amazon’s cloud service dominates the Internet so thoroughly that it’s scarcely worth noting new customers. Unless, that is, the customer in question is … Apple.

Tucked away in a Monday New York Times piece on the online-storage price wars lies this brief but interesting nugget (AWS is Amazon Web Services—i.e., Amazon’s cloud):

Apple’s iCloud storage service and other parts of Apple, along with operations at several large banks, run inside A.W.S., say people familiar with the service who spoke on the condition they not be named so they could sustain relations with the powerful cloud company.

You have to love the Timesian sourcing on that one, by the way, which at 24 words comes in five words longer than the actual information attributed to said people. Not to mention the possibly intentional ambiguity of which “powerful cloud company” these unnamed folks so desperately want to sustain relations with. (Both Amazon and Apple would qualify, depending on how literally you want to read this sentence.)

See also: Amazon’s Cloud Is The Fastest Growing Software Business In History

In any event, this revelation is intriguing in a couple of respects. It’s certainly not the first time Apple has used an outside company to provide Web services—see, for instance, Akamai, which delivers software, music and video downloaded from Apple’s website and the iTunes store.

But Apple is usually obsessed with micromanaging every aspect of its technology and services. So some of its users might be surprised to learn that they’re storing their backups and other personal data not on Apple servers, but on ones rented from Amazon. It’s not totally clear that anyone should care about that, but you never know.

Of course, iCloud is also in the midst of a big transition, as it preps new consumer-storage services as part of Mac OS X Yosemite and its CloudKit service designed to provide cloud storage for iOS apps. And Apple has been building out data centers at a furious pace, with the latest one slated to start up sometime this year in Prineville, Ore. (My former colleague Taylor Hatmaker snapped some photos of the construction for ReadWrite last year.) 

See also: Apple Is Taking On Amazon And Google With A Big Server Giveaway

So possibly Apple is just short on server capacity until Prineville spins up. Though it’s understandable why the company might not want to advertise its apparent dependence on Amazon at the moment, as the news runs slantwise to Apple’s notable—and heavily marketed—environmental push to run all its data centers on renewable power. (Amazon’s cloud scored 3 Fs and a D in the latest Greenpeace report on data-center energy use thanks to heavy reliance on power from coal, nuclear and natural gas.)

Apple’s PR team didn’t get back to me when I asked them about the company’s use of Amazon’s cloud. But the company didn’t exactly deny the NYT report:

Amazon would not comment on confidential customer agreements. An Apple spokesman noted that Apple had its own data centers in four locations jn the United States and said that “the vast majority” of data in services like iTunes, Maps and the App Store ran on its own computers. Apple uses other facilities as well, he said.

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SearchCap: Negative SEO Extortion Scam, Apple Maps Dominates Google & Bing Ads Top Movers

Below is what happened in search today, as reported on Search Engine Land and from other places across the web. From Search Engine Land: Google Responds To Mass Negative SEO Extortion Emails There are widespread reports within the industry of negative SEO extortion emails being sent to website…

Please visit Search Engine Land for the full article.

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Apple Maps Represents 70% Of UK Mapping Traffic According To UK Cell Data Provider

According to a report released by U.K’s largest mobile network operator, Everything Everywhere (EE), Apple Maps represents a crushing 70% of mapping traffic across it’s whole network. The report reads: Traffic on the new Apple Maps now represents 70% of mapping traffic on the 4G…

Please visit Search Engine Land for the full article.

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It Really Is About Time For Apple To Start Tweeting

Lots of people jumped to the conclusion that Apple’s hire of a prominent social-media marketer meant that the iPhone maker might be ready to relax its infamous reality distortion field and dive into the social-media age.

Too bad that’s not likely to happen, at least not on the scale Apple really needs. Because it’s way past time for the company to embrace modern methods of charming and manipulating the emotions of its fans.

The confusion involved Apple’s hire of Musa Tariq, who ran notable social media operations for both Nike and Burberry. 9to5Mac’s Mark Gurman, who’s compiled a strong record of reliable Apple scoops, broke the news of the hire, writing that Tariq would serve as “Digital Marketing Director, Apple,” and speculating that “[w]ith this newfound expertise on its staff, it seems likely that Apple’s social media presence will grow rapidly.”

There’s just one little problem. Have a look at this screenshot of Tariq’s Twitter profile, taken Tuesday afternoon, and see if you can figure it out:

That’s right! Tariq’s actual title appears to be “Digital Marketing Director, Apple Retail.” Not to diminish the importance of the Apple Store empire, but that’s a much smaller playground than all of Apple. So it seems much more likely that Tariq will be focused on campaigns to draw more customers into Apple’s big glass boxes than on anything that might speak more broadly for the company.

Which is a huge shame—and maybe even a giant missed opportunity for Cupertino.

Apple, The Anti-Social Company

Apple, the largest publicly traded company on the planet, does not have what the business kids call a “social media strategy.” It doesn’t even have a verified @Apple Twitter account. (The unverified @Apple account has almost 28,000 followers, but follows no one and has never tweeted.)

You can see why folks were excited about Tariq’s hiring. He’s the guy who got Nike to dump outside agencies and create a completely internal social media department which partnered with prominent athletes. While at Burberry, his “Tweetwalk” campaign during London Fashion Week in 2011 provided “exclusive” info to followers and kicked significant Burberry buzz on Twitter.

This is the kind of social media savvy Apple could use to dust off its crusty social media accounts and catch up with competitors already on the ball.

Take, for example, how Samsung won the social media #Oscars thanks to Ellen DeGeneres, Jennifer Lawrence, Angelina Jolie, Bradley Cooper, Kevin Spacey, Meryl Streep, Julia Roberts, Lupita Nyong’o, Brad Pitt and half of Jared Leto’s head in an orchestrated celebriselfie retweeted more than 3 million times.

Meanwhile, Microsoft makes the most of its LinkedIn presence with tips on finding and keeping jobs, along with up-close-and-personal profiles on its employees for nearly 2 million followers.

There have been a few signs that Apple officials are concerned about a perceived erosion in their brand image. Ad Age, for instance, reported in June that Apple is building a 1,000-person “internal” ad agency to rejuvenate its marketing message. Phil Schiller, Apple’s VP of global marketing, has expressed unhappiness with the company’s campaigns and its current ad agency in internal emails that surfaced in recent Apple lawsuits.

All that attention, though, is focused on the company’s traditional advertising strategy. If Apple really wants to freshen up its image, it needs to take a long, hard look at engaging on the social front.

Baby Tweets

Apple, of course, isn’t a complete social naïf. CEO Tim Cook has 569,000 Twitter followers—not bad, considering he’s tweeted only about 80 times from his verified account.

And the company has a handful of verified Twitter accounts representing various divisions, with a respectable number of followers. For example, @iTunesMusic, which “joined” Twitter in 2009, has nearly million followers. And @AppStore, launching the same year, has almost 3 million.

That doesn’t mean social gets a lot of respect in Cupertino.

Cook’s predecessor, the late Steve Jobs, wasn’t one for Twitter, or any social media really—although he was known to answer the occasional email. It was in keeping with that Jobsian reality distortion field, that ambitious vision of the future that engulfed those around him, as well as Jobs’ obsession with tightly controlling any and all information in Apple’s dealings with journalists and consumers.

See also: Apple’s Abrupt Mac OS X Change Could Block Many Apps

Apple’s control-freakdom has loosened up a little under Cook, though not a whole lot. “There is no way that Apple is going to take questions via the Twitter universe for its notoriously secretive earnings call,” Belus Capital analyst Brian Sozzi told CNBC in February. “Apple isn’t going to be like Starbucks and run promoted tweets offering dollars off a product for a limited time. Apple is a premium experience all around, you go to Apple, they do not go to you.”

As 9to5Mac noted, Schiller himself has cuttingly dismissed the value of a focused social media strategy and suggested that social channels are something he can track by himself:

I think paying money for social media tracking tools is nuts. It is easy to track social media, I do it every day, there are lots of summary feeds, groups, and notification tools built right in to the social networking sites, all free. 

Nothing encapsulates the strengths and weaknesses of Apple’s social interaction better than its official YouTube channel, which currently features 44 videos. Many come with the pretty songs and high production values that Apple commercials are known for—which isn’t that surprising, since many of them are Apple TV ads or videos produced for its live events.

None, however, feature input from Apple’s more than one million YouTube followers. The comments are turned off. So when Apple asks in the description of some of its iPad videos, “What will your verse be?”, it seems it’s not really interested in an answer.

Tariq, or someone like him, could change that. But someone’s going to have to shut off the reality-distortion field first.

Lead image by Flickr user Mahender G

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Apple Could Launch The iPhone 6 On September 9

Recode reports that Apple has scheduled a press event on September 9 to unveil the new version (or versions) of the iPhone. 

For the last three years, Apple has introduced each new iPhone version in the fall, not counting a spring 2011 announcement in which Apple launched the device on Verizon. Prior to that, the Cupertino, California–based tech maker held its iPhone debuts in the June-July timeframe.

But if there’s an air of uncertainty around this exact September date, it’s because Apple usually invites a select group of journalists all at once. Thus news of an Apple event typically propagates immediately across Twitter accompanied by images of invitations confirming the details.

This time? Nada. Still, there’s no particular reason to doubt Recode, which has a solid track record with scoops like this. Its report also parallels earlier rumors that pegged a mid-September timeframe for the announcement.

I’ve contacted Apple and will update this post if the company responds.

The iPhone maker is expected to reveal larger smartphones this time around: a 4.7-inch display and a next-generation A8 processor, along with another 5.5-inch version launching later. If true, this would be the company’s first “phablet” (or smartphone with compact tablet proportions). The event may also deliver the long-awaited Apple wrist worn smart device—likely either a fitness band or smartwatch, if in fact it exists at all.

UPDATE: The Wall Street Journal and Bloomberg have both thrown their backing behind the September 9 date, citing unnamed sources who are in the know about Apple’s plans. 

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Surprise! Blockchain Bitcoin Wallet Returns To Apple App Store

More than six months after Apple’s controversial Bitcoin wallet ban, Blockchain is back in the App Store with a new wallet.

In February, Blockchain was the only Bitcoin wallet remaining in the App Store after Apple deleted Coinbase in November 2013 and BitPak back in 2012.

That is, until CEO Nicolas Cary got a message from Apple stating Blockchain had been “removed from the App Store due to an unresolved issue.”

See also: Apple Deletes Blockchain, The Last Remaining Bitcoin Wallet For iPhone

Apple never did elaborate further on that statement, but for reasons we can only speculate on, the tech giant relaxed its “purchasing and currency” policies this June immediately following its Worldwide Developer’s Conference 2014. The update states:

“Apps may facilitate transmission of approved virtual currencies provided that they do so in compliance with all state and federal laws for the territories in which the app functions.”

That shift was a signal to Cary to begin working on the next generation of the Blockchain wallet, he told Coindesk. Built from scratch, the new app not only allows users to exchange bitcoins from wallet to wallet like the former version, but also to make purchases from the growing list of merchants who now accept Bitcoin payments.

See also: Here Are All The New Ways To Spend Bitcoin While You Weren’t Paying Attention

With 1.9 million users, Blockchain is the most popular Bitcoin wallet available. However, Apple’s newly relaxed policy may lure competitors into trying to create a better one.

(Apple has not yet returned ReadWrite’s request for comment.)

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