Posts tagged Apple
A new mobile ad feature allows users to save mobile offers to Apple Pay and Google Wallet with the tap of a finger. This new technology could mean better solutions for search offerings.
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Move over, Rolex. According to reports by the French media late last week, Apple may be taking a page from your playbook, prompting it to build dedicated stores for its upcoming Apple Watch.
The company has not breathed a word of this, of course, but there’s reason to believe it may be true. But those reasons may be more than skin deep. The popular narrative chalks this up to Apple copying jewelry or luxury goods makers, and it’s tempting to say Apple just wants to give its “precious” an equally precious retail environment.
But there are more pragmatic reasons than that—some of which may offer lessons to other would-be smartwatch makers.
How Precious Can You Get?
If the new device was a phone, it would sit out in the open at Apple Stores. The other jewels in Apple’s crown, the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus, are displayed just this way, tethered by thin cables and caked in the thick smudges that only thousands of shoppers could leave behind. They line up like good little soldiers alongside the latest iPads, iPod touches and MacBook Airs.
The company may not want the Apple Watch to suffer that indignity. After all, it has hifalutin ambitions for the product.
Apple’s profound power of denial has it refusing to call the wrist gadget—which will link to iPhones and work with apps—something as mundane as a smartwatch. Last September, the company went out of its way to invite fashion journalists and other tastemakers to its press announcement. Vogue China editors saw the watch in person before many American tech reporters did, putting the gadget on its cover. Now Self bookends the fashion push as the first U.S. magazine to do the same.
How glamorous. So if Apple is designing whole stores around the smartwatch—and it is a smartwatch, no matter what Apple says—it seems rather fitting. The company would give its wrist device some space to breath and glass display cases to highlight the beauty. All the better to add to the product’s allure.
But Apple may have another motivation for constructing special brick-and-mortar stores: theft protection. Apple Stores from California to North Carolina to many other parts of the U.S. and abroad, including Paris, have seen robberies, smash-and-grabs and even thefts enabled by barreling a car into an Apple storefront. Former NBA basketball player Rex Chapman alone made off with $14,000, and Apple’s own employees apparently can’t resist joining in on the illicit activity.
Apple downplays the issue, and it doesn’t disclose figures attached to theft, but the sums are likely considerable. (The company has hundreds of stores worldwide, with more than 250 in the U.S. alone.) A few Apple Store employees in the Bay Area have told me their locations see frequent thefts. Some are brazen snatching incidents, others skew toward subtle cons like Rex Chapman’s—with perpetrators waltzing out the door after faking an Easy Pay self-checkout transaction.
The addition of even smaller devices—worth between $350 to as much as $5,000—would surely heighten the temptation.
Not that Apple Watches will be entirely MIA from current stores. More likely, the base models will sit out in those display tables, while premium versions will probably get stashed in backroom vaults. But that’s hardly a great way to showcase 18 karat-gold premium devices.
A jewelry store-style setting, presumably equipped with cameras, alarms and tightened security, would allow the company to feature all models of its Apple Watch in a grander—and more guarded—setting.
Why Every Smartwatch Maker Should Root For Apple
New purpose-built retail locations would allow Apple to give the public hands-on time without magnifying the shoplifting temptation in its regular stores. That hands-on time is crucial.
The last time Apple debuted a category-defining device was the iPad’s roll-out in 2010. Ahead of that launch, naysayers just couldn’t see the point of what some called “a vastly oversized iPod touch.” But the extra space allowed developers to rethink their user interfaces and create more immersive experiences that just weren’t possible on smaller displays.
In other words, you had to actually use it to really get it. The same may well be true of the Apple Watch.
The iPad ultimately won many of the critics over, with some even publicly admitting their error. Its soaring sales prompted many of major smartphone makers to also become tablet makers. Though sales of its big-screen mobile device have dropped lately, the launch experience was valuable for Apple—particularly now as it prepares to unleash its smallest-screen gadget.
Apple likely noticed some interesting customer behavior in its existing stores: Some people need to hold the devices in their hands before they can fall in love with them. That may be even truer for unproven gadgets.
That’s one reason why, even though brick-and-mortar locations seem so very antiquated in these digital times, they’ve become surprisingly de rigueur among tech companies as varied as Amazon, eBay, Microsoft and Samsung. Apple has mastered its grip on physical retail better than most, and now it may be poised to do it once again, all for a single product.
A lot could be riding on it. While the public seems intrigued by smartwatches, many still haven’t yet hopped on the bandwagon. Perhaps, like with iPads, they need to experience them first.
That can be tougher than it seems. When the Asus ZenWatch was supposed to launch at Best Buy last November, I headed to my local outpost to check it out on day one. The employees had no idea what I was talking about, and couldn’t even find the device in their inventory database.
If Apple is building Watch Stores, it may be in part because the company wants to give its first real wearable its biggest chance of success. If it works, the tech giant might find itself popularizing a nascent product category once again and raising the profile of a whole industry.
Success should be easy to gauge. We’ll just have to look out for jewelry store-like retail spaces with customers lined up all the way down the block.
Device photos courtesy of their respective manufacturers
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Since its earliest days, the payment system Softcard seemed doomed to failure: Take a consortium of wireless carriers and have them create a user-friendly way to pay with your phone. On Monday, Softcard’s key partners, AT&T, Verizon, and T-Mobile, admitted defeat, selling some technology scraps to Google and agreeing to support Google Wallet on Android phones.
Google Wallet emerges from the deal as the clear way to pay with Android phones at retail stores with newer equipment that support NFC, or near-field communication, payments—including those that have recently upgraded to support Apple Pay, which also uses NFC.
“For now, Softcard customers can continue to tap and pay with the app,” Softcard wrote in a concessionary announcement. “We will share more information with customers and partners in the coming weeks.”
Just as Apple and Google want to control payments in their digital app and content stores, it makes sense that they want to play gatekeeper over retail payments on devices running their software.
That leaves PayPal and perhaps Samsung, which recently acquired payments startup LoopPay, as the main alternatives to Apple and Google’s built-in digital wallets.
Samsung obviously wants to hedge against Google’s software dominion on its hardware. But PayPal could be the far more interesting indie player in payments—especially as it prepares to spin off from eBay and become a separately traded company.
The challenge for developers, already beholden to the smartphone giants for access to customers, is that they’ll need to support both Google Wallet and Apple Pay to reach mobile customers. PayPal has an opportunity here to market itself as a one-tap shop.
The question that all the players in the payment space need to wrestle with is whether the tap, as a payment gesture, has any meaning. As retail theater, a performative mechanic intended to convince the customer that payment has been registered, perhaps so. But it’s hardly better than the swipe, the familiar payment gesture it will replace, or the dip, which we’ll have to do with newer chip cards later this year.
The payment system of the future will happen in the cloud, verified by biometrics, behavioral data, or a combination thereof. We won’t swipe, tap, or dip. We’ll just pay. NFC is just a transitional technology, originally developed to deal with expensive, balky telephone connections of decades past.
We see a glimmer of this in apps that let us order ahead for pickup. Google Wallet and Apple Pay will have a role in these transactions, too, as in-app payment methods—and crucially, they won’t require permission from carriers or phone manufacturers to process such payments.
That may well be why Softcard admitted defeat, since it was never going to have a role in app-based payments. PayPal has been talking about “one-touch” mobile payments—but it’s actually most interesting when it powers zero-tap payments, like Uber’s automatically billed rides.
We don’t need to replace the swipe with slower, more cumbersome checkout processes, as Softcard attempted to do. We need to eliminate the swipe, the tap, and the dip altogether.
This 2006 commercial from IBM has it about right: We don’t need new ways to pay at the checkout. We need to end the whole outdated ritual of retail theater.
Put it on my account.
Lead image courtesy of Softcard
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Rumors of Apple’s project to build an electric car to rival Tesla Motors—allegedly codenamed “Titan”—have been swirling for weeks. On Friday, 9to5Mac compiled a list of employees who are supposedly on the Apple Car team. Meanwhile, Bloomberg reports that Apple has plans to produce its cars by the year 2020.
But in a rush to imagine themselves speeding down the road in a shiny new iCar, many Apple fans and critics alike may be thinking about Titan from the wrong angle. Titan may not actually be an “Apple Car” at all. What if Titan is a Trojan Horse, designed to convince automakers to adopt a new, car-optimized operating system so Apple can rule your commute?
Many Apple Car skeptics have rightfully brought up some important facts about the realities of making a car. Last week, Dan Akerson, former CEO of General Motors, weighed in with his doubts on Apple’s ability to jump into the auto industry.
“I would be highly suspect of the long-term prospect of getting into a low-margin, heavy-manufacturing,” Akerson told Bloomberg in an interview.
He added, “They’d better think carefully if they want to get into the hard-core manufacturing. We take steel, raw steel, and turn it into car. They have no idea what they’re getting into if they get into that.”
Akerson’s not wrong. Producing a modern vehicle that gets people from point A to point B without getting banged up by accidents is a very different ballgame from commissioning Asian factories to build gadgets that slip into your pocket.
Just because Apple’s building a prototype car, though, doesn’t mean it’ll actually handle production on its own—there’s already a whole industry of auto contract manufacturers who have the know-how to bring a car from concept to production. Titan could simply be a prototype designed to show carmakers how to build electric vehicles for the future—with Apple software at the center of the experience.
Watch And Learn
This is more or less what Apple’s rival Google already does in other areas. Google designs its Nexus line of smartphones to run “pure” Android, free from the bloat that other handset makers are often compelled to pre-install on their phones.
Each Nexus is produced by a different hardware partner—the Nexii 4, 5, and 6 were made by Samsung, LG, and Motorola respectively. While none have been big sellers, they’ve been a hit with hardcore Android fans, and have provided a blueprint of Google’s vision for mobile devices.
See also: Why Google’s Driverless Car Is Evil
Google appears to be doing something similar with its driverless-car program, and it’s easy to imagine that Apple could take the same tack with whatever Titan prototype it’s building right now. Apple might simply show its car to automakers and say “this is how you do it.” And once car companies get the message, Apple will be in a perfect position to create a whole new software ecosystem to hook drivers and developers.
iPhones On Wheels
Apple is best at designing products with screens and batteries. Electric cars, as you may have noticed, also have screens and batteries. Apple shouldn’t have too much trouble leveraging its experience making iPhones and iPods into creating a functional whole-car operating system, one that gives drivers control of the vehicle and its media.
If Apple can show automakers the benefits of adopting its car-optimized operating system—either CarPlay or something new and more holistic as an OS—Apple can reinvent driving much the same way it reinvented media consumption with the iPod and iTunes.
Right now, developing software for use on car dashboards is a nightmare. Every automaker has its own take on the kind of software that drivers should be able to access, and—with the exception of Tesla—they’re all a generation or two behind the rest of the consumer tech we use every day.
If Apple could get its operating system powering a greater number of cars, suddenly app developers will have a viable platform for their wares.
Build It And They Will Come
We’ve seen this scenario before. Before the iPhone came along, mobile phones relied on all sorts of different operating systems. As a result, developing apps and games for mobile devices was a major pain.
Once the iPhone became ubiquitous, though, developers suddenly saw a path to downloads and dollars by building new apps. Android’s subsequent arrival and widespread adoption gave developers another platform to worry about—but only one other platform. Between iPhones and Android phones, users had a good chance of bumping into their products.
Titan may be Apple’s attempt to repeat its iPhone software successes: Give developers a widely adopted platform to build and sell apps. Collect revenue from software sales. Repeat. Get rich. (Well, at least the lucky few.)
When shopping for a new car in five years, we may be at the dealership trying to figure out if we want one that’s red or blue, two-door or four-door—TitanOS or AndroidAuto.
Lead image courtesy of Apple
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After last year’s incessantly buggy iOS releases, Apple appears ready to do anything to sniff out glitches before they hit users en masse—including letting them volunteer as guinea pigs to test pre-release iPhone software.
According to 9to5Mac, Apple will give users an early look at iOS 8.3 by releasing its very first public beta of the software in mid-March. That seems like a bit of a jump, since the current iOS release is version 8.1.3. Apparently Apple is sticking with its traditional test-and-release path for iOS 8.2, now in the hands of developers. The report also claims that Apple will follow up with a public beta release for iOS 9 in the summer.
Though the chronology may seem confusing, the overall move itself would make sense in several ways—namely, turning a previous P.R. nightmare into a win.
Spinning A Fail Into A Win
Last fall, iOS 8 brought a world of hurt to users. Various bugs bricked some phones and messed up photo syncing, messages and more on others. None of the problems really hurt iPhone sales, but the company could clearly do without more stumbles of that magnitude.
A public beta gives Apple a golden opportunity to find bugs while also giving fans an early peek at new features. The additional participants would also make for an extra large swath of beta-testers—all the better to really put the software through its paces and boost the odds of finding problems early. Essentially, Apple could give itself an exceptionally large mallet for its whack-a-mole game of bug squashing.
There would be, of course, one more obvious benefit for the company. With a public beta, Apple would have a built-in excuse, should a hail of glitches rain down devices: “Hey, it’s beta software! You knew that going in.”
The public betas will be a first for iOS, though Apple has gone this route before for Mac OS X. The company made beta versions of “Yosemite” (OS X 10.10) available ahead of its October 2014 final release, granting the first one million people who signed up access to the early software. (It’s on track to do the same with the upcoming OS X version 10.10.3.)
iOS eligibility may not be quite so wide open, according to the 9to5Mac story, which says the company will only accept 100,000 iOS testers to maintain an air of “exclusivity.”
Nicknamed “Stowe,” developer versions of iOS 8.1 went out earlier this month. It included some bug fixes and improvements, along with support for wireless CarPlay.
Lead image adapted from artwork courtesy of Library Of Congress
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Apple is mulling the idea of creating dedicated stores for its Apple Watch device, according to reports in the French press. Those reports pick up on rumors of several upmarket Paris retailers building separate display cases for the smartwatch ahead of its launch in April.
If those display cases prove to be a success, the reports suggest, then Apple will consider setting up new retail outlets specifically to sell the Apple Watch alongside purveyors of luxury goods. It could also set up smaller stores inside spaces run by other retailers, in the same way that Mac computers are currently sold at Best Buy in the U.S.
It’s another sign of how Apple sees its smartwatch—as less of a gadget and more of a high-end piece of jewelry. The base price of the device has been set at $349, though the cost of an 18k gold Apple Watch Edition model has been estimated at several thousand dollars.
It would therefore make sense for Apple to adopt the retail strategy used by luxury watchmakers. It would also create a clear distinction between the Apple Watch and the firm’s mobile devices and computers.
Of course, Apple already has a strong high street presence, unlike most of its competitors—Apple Stores in several landmark locations across the globe have become almost as iconic as the products inside them. Work is already underway to accommodate the new Apple Watch inside the Cupertino company’s retail outlets, and that’s said to include high-security safes where the most expensive Apple Watches will be kept.
Apple once again appears confident focusing on the premium end of the market—perhaps even more so than with its phones and tablets. While the first Android Wear smartwatches focused very much on functionality and low prices, more recent models (like the LG Urbane) have begun to aim higher in terms of cost and style. Both the Pebble and the Sony Smartwatch 3 are now available in premium steel versions alongside the regular editions.
We’ll have to wait until April to see exactly how the Apple Watch will be rolled out, and the way the three editions are priced. If it proves as much of a success as its maker thinks it’s going to be, don’t be surprised if it gets its own retail space in the near future.
Lead image courtesy of Apple
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Samsung just announced its intention to buy Boston-based LoopPay, a mobile payments company that has one very noteworthy benefit—the technology can work with standard magnetic stripe-reading credit card terminals.
The payments company claims it works with 90% of those existing machines, which would immediately give Samsung a payments system with far more support than Apple Pay right out of the gate.
“We are excited to take our relationship with LoopPay to the next level, by bringing consumers a mobile wallet solution that is not just safe and reliable, but also widely accepted at more locations than any competing service,” said David Eun, EVP of Samsung’s Global Innovation Center, in a press statement.
Apple has partnerships with as many as 220,000 stores, including its own and locations of Bloomingdales, Macy’s, Duane Reade, McDonald’s, Sephora, Petco, Panera Bread, Staples, Nike, Walgreens, Subway, Whole Foods, and more. That sounds like a lot, but it’s just a fraction of the tens of millions of retailers that accept traditional plastic credit cards.
Apple Pay is still a nascent system lacking in support and coverage—largely because it requires payment terminals equipped with Near Field Communication to work. NFC, a short-range wireless communication standard, has been gaining attention, but its adoption still falters at the check-out point, as it would force retailers to update their systems and hardware.
Details of the Samsung acquisition, including timeframe and cost, were not disclosed.
Rumors that the two companies would be working together have buzzed since last year. In January, LoopPay CEO Will Graylin told Business Insider that his company’s technology is slated to go in a major new smartphone this year. It seems all but certain this will be Samsung’s upcoming new flagship, the Galaxy S6.
Previously, LoopPay made phone cases and dongles that managed payments my creating a magnetic field that interacted with standard credit card readers. Users had to input their raw account numbers so that the hardware could essentially translate that into the magnetic field. No word yet on whether LoopPay-equipped Samsung devices will work exactly the same way.
The press release follows:
Samsung to Acquire LoopPay, Transformative Digital Wallet Platform
Mountain View, CA and Seoul, Korea – February 18, 2015 – Samsung Electronics Co., Ltd. today announced that it has agreed to acquire LoopPay, the acclaimed mobile wallet solutions provider that turns existing magnetic stripe readers into secure, contactless receivers. LoopPay’s technology has the potential to work in approximately 90% of existing point-of-sale (POS) terminals, according to internal research, with no investment in new infrastructure required by merchants. LoopPay will join Samsung to strengthen the company’s overall efforts to provide users with seamless, safe, and reliable mobile wallet solutions.
As part of the acquisition, LoopPay founders and veteran payment industry entrepreneurs Will Graylin and George Wallner will work closely with Samsung’s Mobile Division. LoopPay has built an advanced and widely accepted contactless payment solution using its patented Magnetic Secure Transmission (MST) technology. LoopPay’s talent and technology, paired with Samsung’s world leading mobile technology, global presence, and distribution capabilities will help drive the next wave of innovation in the digital smart wallet.
“This acquisition accelerates our vision to drive and lead innovation in the world of mobile commerce. Our goal has always been to build the smartest, most secure, user-friendly mobile wallet experience, and we are delighted to welcome LoopPay to take us closer to this goal,” said JK Shin, President and Head of IT and Mobile Division at Samsung Electronics.
Samsung has an existing relationship with LoopPay, having first identified the potential for the pioneering technology when it became a strategic investor along with Visa and Synchrony Financial. The investment, which was facilitated by Samsung’s Global Innovation Center, helped fuel LoopPay’s MST technology development.
“We are excited to take our relationship with LoopPay to the next level, by bringing consumers a mobile wallet solution that is not just safe and reliable, but also widely accepted at more locations than any competing service,” said David Eun, EVP of Samsung’s Global Innovation Center. “Through this deal we can significantly accelerate our mobile commerce efforts. LoopPay’s outstanding leaders and team have deep-rooted relationships with banks, card networks and merchants that will complement those Samsung has established over the years.”
Margaret Keane, President and CEO of Synchrony Financial, the largest provider of private label credit cards in the U.S. and a leader in promotional financing, as well as an investor in LoopPay, commented, “This is great news for our customers who can access their cards and make payments using LoopPay’s contactless MST technology. Our goal is to offer valuable products for our clients, service providers, and our customers. We look forward to working with LoopPay and others to deliver secure mobile payment solutions for all of our 60 million active accounts.”
“LoopPay is focused on delivering a digital wallet solution that is dependable for consumers around the world, one that provides more value from card issuers and the merchants that serve them,” said Will Graylin, CEO of LoopPay. “We are excited to join the Samsung family to continue our goal of making smartphones trusted, secure smart wallets and unlock the limitless possibilities of mobile enabled commerce.”
Photo courtesy of Shutterstock
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Unsurprisingly, Apple appears to have big plans for its new Apple Watch. Unfortunately, it may have left some of the smartwatch’s most compelling features on the cutting-room floor.
See also: The Apple Watch Is Coming In April
Apple has placed an order for more than 5 million Apple Watch units with its Asian suppliers, according to sources speaking to the Wall Street Journal. The order covers the first three months from April, when the wearable goes on sale, and would dwarf the number of Android Wear smartwatches that LG, Motorola, Asus, Samsung and Sony managed to sell in 2014.
According to Canalys, 720,000 Android Wear smartwatches were sold in 2014; Apple looks to be aiming to sell more than five times that number in a single quarter, and with record-breaking iPhone sales under its belt the company will be confident of meeting its target.
About half of the initial 5-6 million order is made up of the entry level $349 Apple Watch Sport model, the WSJ says, with a third consisting of the mid-tier Apple Watch, and the remainder the high-end Apple Watch Edition (with pricing to be confirmed on both these models).
More Wealth, Less Health
But many of the Apple Watch’s more advanced health-related features have been cut during the development process. The wearable is able to measure body movement, steps and heart rate, but the WSJ’s sources suggest that Apple had grander plans that had to be scaled down for the first generation model.
Some of these features were too complex to implement, the newspaper reports, while others might have snared Apple in a tangle of regulatory issues it was keen to avoid. Blood pressure and stress tracking are mentioned, for example, are among the features which may still make it into the Apple Watch in future editions of the device.
The report indicates that some of the watch’s unique features, like heartbeat messaging and interactive communications, were added to fill the gap left by the functions that got cut. Apple has declined to comment on the speculation in advance of the official release in April.
Photo courtesy of Apple
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After days of rumors, the evidence is starting to mount that Apple is seriously considering building an electric car to take on Tesla. The Wall Street Journal reported Friday that the company has had a project code-named “Titan” in the works for the past year, with “several hundred” employees assigned to it.
The WSJ notes, of course, that “Apple may decide not to proceed with the car,” and adds that that the battery and electronic technologies developed in the project could be useful in other divisions of Apple. But it also cites insiders suggesting that the size of the team and some of the individuals working there “indicate that the company is serious.”
Apple executives have also reportedly met recently with contract auto manufacturers in Austria, specifically one from Canada’s Magna International.
Product design vice president Steve Zadesky—who has helmed iPod and iPhone design teams at Apple—is reportedly heading up the project. Zadesky formerly worked as an engineer for Ford Motors. Meanwhile, the WSJ points out that Apple has also hired another former auto executive: Johann Jungwirth, former president and CEO of Mercedes-Benz R&D in North America.
The rumors began two weeks ago when CBS San Francisco reported on sightings of a mysterious van with an elaborate camera array on its roof driving around the Bay Area. The report confirmed that the vans were leased by Apple, and cited technology analyst Rob Enderle, who speculated that the vans might be part of an autonomous vehicle project akin to Google’s ongoing initiative.
At the time, it seemed equally possible that the vans were part of Apple’s efforts to enhance its disappointing iPhone Maps app, perhaps with its own version of Google’s Street View.
Then, just a few days ago, an alleged anonymous Apple employee emailed Business Insider to say that Tim Cook and company were working on a project that would “change the landscape and give Tesla a run for its money.” And only a few days before that, Bloomberg reported reported on an escalating hiring war between Tesla and Apple, in which each company was scrambling to poach engineers and employees from the other.
So far, Apple has neither confirmed nor denied the reports. If these rumors turn out to be true, hopefully Tim Cook will let us know by driving one through a wall and screeching to a halt on-stage at Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference this summer.
Lead image courtesy of Ferrari
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Apple CEO Tim Cook just announced that Apple Pay, the company’s mobile-payment system, will work with payment cards issued by the federal government, and some federal agencies will start taking Apple Pay payments in the fall.
Bloomberg is calling it a “big win” for Apple Pay. Well, hold on there. Yes, the government does $26.4 billion in transactions a year on GSA SmartPay cards. But what are these cards? They’re not some strange, alien form of payment. They’re just plastic Visa and MasterCard cards issued by Citibank, JPMorgan Chase, and US Bank—all of which are existing Apple Pay partners.
All they had to do was turn on a switch for these cards, and the federal employees, veterans, and others using them can now scan their cards into Apple Pay (if they have an iPhone 6 or 6 Plus).
What this doesn’t change is where they can spend money with those cards. If the National Park Service, say, starts accepting NFC-based payments, that’s another category where iPhone users can tap to pay. But that will require upgrades at thousands of locations—and the federal government is notoriously slow about upgrading its physical and technical infrastructure.
Oh, and by the way—Google Wallet, Softcard, and other NFC-based payment services should work at those same locations once they’re upgraded. In fact, the federal government issued a request for information on new payment systems in January, suggesting it’s considering embracing many new forms of payment technology.
If you’re a federal employee on a business trip who’s spending her per diem at Whole Foods, I suppose this is a marginally interesting development. And it’s good publicity for Apple. But otherwise, this news doesn’t mean much for most of us.
Screenshot by ReadWrite
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