BBC World Service – Smell tech

At the end of this program is my piece on smell technology, if you like that kind of thing. BBC World Service – Business Daily, UK FinTech Mulls a Post-Brexit Future (with everything else going on it might seem a bit flippant, or maybe light relief. 

Can the UK’s financial technology or FinTech sector maintain its global lead after Brexit? We speak to Lawrence Wintermeyer, the chairman of the industry’s trade body Innovate Finance, about what he hopes the British government will negotiate in a new deal with the EU. Also, Michael Pettis, professor of finance at Peking University, tells us what Brexit looks like from China and why financial markets have been resilient to the initial shock of the referendum’s result. Plus, what’s the point of a smart phone that can smell? Jeremy Wagstaff, Thomson Reuters’ chief technology correspondent for Asia, says you may be surprise. 

Apple Pay day some ways off

A Reuters piece I wrote with two colleagues on Apple’s efforts to break the mobile payments logjam (and catch up with China and Africa). In the long run, of course, they’ll likely carve out a decent business, but it’s not as smooth as it might be, and the impression we got was that Apple was facing problems not only convincing partners to jump aboard, but to make sure the process was as Apple-like for consumers as possible.

It’s an interesting conundrum that Apple faces: pretty much everything they have to do now is about ensuring their gadgets interact with worlds they can’t control – from payments to cars.

Early days, but Apple Pay struggles outside U.S.

BY MATT SIEGEL, JEREMY WAGSTAFF AND ERIC AUCHARD

More than 18 months after Apple Pay took the United States by storm, the smartphone giant has made only a small dent in the global payments market, snagged by technical challenges, low consumer take-up and resistance from banks.

The service is available in six countries and among a limited range of banks, though in recent weeks Apple has added four banks to its sole Singapore partner American Express; Australia and New Zealand Banking Group in Australia; and Canada’s five big banks.

Apple Pay usage totaled $10.9 billion last year, the vast majority of that in the United States. That is less than the annual volume of transactions in Kenya, a mobile payments pioneer, according to research firm Timetric.

And its global turnover is a drop in the bucket in China, where Internet giants Alibaba and Tencent dominate the world’s biggest mobile payments market – with an estimated $1 trillion worth of mobile transactions last year, according to iResearch data.

Anecdotal evidence from Britain, China and Australia suggests Apple Pay is popular with core Apple followers, but the quality of service, and interest in it, varies significantly.

To use Apple Pay, consumers tap their iPhone over payment terminals to buy coffee, train tickets and other services. It can be also used at vending machines that accept contactless payments.

Apple Pay transactions were a fraction of the $84.5 billion in iPhone sales for the six months to March, which accounted for two-thirds of Apple’s total revenue.

TECH HITCHES

In Australia, where Apple Pay launched a month ago, payment machines supported by one mid-sized bank reported frequent failures.

“Bendigo Bank is experiencing some unforeseen technical issues in accepting Apple Pay payments at selected merchant terminals,” a spokeswoman for the bank told Reuters, adding that a lack of wider industry engagement in launching the service limited the lead time in testing the new technology.

Apple Vice President Jennifer Bailey said such experiences were premature and not representative. “Like any set of major technology changes, it takes time,” she said. “We want to move as quickly as possible, we push it as quickly as possible.”

Facing a slowing smartphone business, Apple has taken on the payments market hoping to add ways to make its devices more appealing, and more revenue streams. Apple takes a cut of up to 15 cents in the United States on every $100 spent.

While it has long mastered the supply chain for its mobile devices, the payments ecosystem has proved harder to control, and banks in other countries have reportedly negotiated lower transaction fees, contributing to its slow global roll-out.

Apple nearly doubled its R&D spending to more than $8 billion in 2013–15 as it pushed out a wave of new products including Apple Watch and Apple Pay, as well as upgrades to existing hardware devices and new services.

RESISTANCE

Apple has leveraged its huge U.S. user base to push Pay, but has met resistance in Australia, Britain and Canada where banks are building their own products.

“Payments in general is such a complicated system with so many incumbent providers that revolutionary change like this was not going to happen very quickly,” said Joshua Gilbert, an analyst at First Annapolis Consulting.

The upshot: Apple has rolled out Pay in a dribble, adding countries and partners where it can – Hong Kong is expected to be added next – resulting in an uneven banking landscape with users and retail staff not always sure what will work and how.

In Britain, for example, $14 billion was spent via contactless cards last year, according to Windsor Holden, a Juniper Research analyst. That makes it harder to persuade people to take the extra step on their smartphone for the same checkout convenience.

“You have over 86 million contactless cards in circulation, you have to persuade Britons to register their cards to the (Apple Pay) service when they can already use them to make a contactless payment,” Holden said.

In Australia, where more than 60 percent of all card transactions are through contactless cards, reception has also been muted. A spokesman for one large retailer said he had seen “very little uptake of the payment option” in his sector. He didn’t want to be named as he was not authorized to speak publicly about the matter.

Diego Machuca, 32, banks with Apple Pay-holdout Commonwealth Bank, has an iPhone and is already “largely cashless”. He says Apple Pay is appealing, but he wouldn’t switch banks just to access that one feature. “Not over that. There’s too much work involved just for tap-and-go,” he told Reuters.

Three months after the China launch, users on online forums complained that using Apple Pay, even at popular fast-food outlets, was not as seamless as local services such as WeChat, Tencent’s messaging and mobile commerce phenomenon.

Nonetheless, Apple’s approach has spurred development in several markets where the mobile payments industry had previously not taken hold – giving it the jump on rivals Google’s Android Pay and Samsung Pay.

Android Pay only launched in the United States in March and in Britain last month for use on the latest model Android phones. Samsung Pay is available in three markets; China, South Korea and the United States.

(Reporting by Matt Siegel in SYDNEY, Jeremy Wagstaff in SINGAPORE, Eric Auchard in LONDON and Beijing Newsroom; Editing by Ian Geoghegan)

The Bangladesh Bank Hack, Part XIV

Lots of attention at the moment on the implications of the Bangladesh Bank hack, now four months old. This is a piece I contributed last week. Quite a bit of water has gone under the bridge since then. We not only don’t know who was behind the hack – North Koreans have been put somewhere in the frame, but that’s by no means a certainty – but we still don’t really understand how all the pieces fit together. Meanwhile, the blame game continues.

Cyber firms say Bangladesh hackers have attacked other Asian banks

WASHINGTON/SINGAPORE | BY DUSTIN VOLZ AND JEREMY WAGSTAFF

Hackers who stole $81 million from Bangladesh’s central bank have been linked to an attack on a bank in the Philippines, in addition to the 2014 hack on Sony Pictures, cybersecurity company Symantec Corp (SYMC.O) said in a blog post.

The U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation has blamed North Korea for the attack on Sony’s Hollywood studio.

A senior executive at Mandiant, the cybersecurity company investigating the Bank Bangladesh heist, also told Reuters the hackers had recently penetrated banks in Southeast Asia.

In the blog post published on Thursday, Symantec did not name the Philippines bank or say whether any money was stolen, but said the attacks could be traced back to October last year. It did not identify the hackers.

The Philippines central bank’s deputy governor, Nestor Espenilla, told Reuters that no bank in the country had lost money to hackers, although he did not rule out the possibility of cyber attacks.

“We are checking if there are similar attacks on Philippine banks,” Espenilla said. “However, no reported losses so far.”

He added: “It is one thing to be attacked. It is another to lose money.”

Marshall Heilman, vice president for Mandiant, a part of U.S.-based FireEye (FEYE.O), said it was not known whether any money was lost in the other attacks he described or whether the hackers had been successfully blocked.

“There is a group operating in Southeast Asia that definitely understands the bank industry and is at more than one location,” he said.

Heilman declined to identify the country or countries, or the institutions attacked. He said it was the same group as the one involved in the Bank Bangladesh theft and that the attacks were recent, but declined to be more specific.

Central banks elsewhere in Southeast Asia – Singapore, Indonesia, Brunei, Myanmar, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, Thailand and East Timor – have declined comment or denied knowledge of any other breaches.

There have been at least four known cyber attacks against a bank involving fraudulent messages on the SWIFT payments network, one dating back to 2013. SWIFT, the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication, urged banks this week to bolster their security, saying it was aware of multiple attacks.

Banks around the world use secure SWIFT messages for issuing payment instructions to each other.

“HARD CONNECTION”

SWIFT said earlier this week that February’s Bangladesh Bank hack was a “watershed event for the banking industry” and that it was “not an isolated incident.”

Spokeswoman Natasha de Teran said on Thursday that SWIFT was “actively looking into other possible instances of such fraud,” but would not comment on individual entities.

Symantec said it had identified three pieces of malware that were used in limited targeted attacks against financial institutions in Southeast Asia. (symc.ly/1sRNHc7)

One of the malicious programs has been previously associated with a hacking group known as Lazarus, which has been linked to the devastating attack on Sony’s Hollywood studio in 2014.

“There is a pretty hard connection now to the Sony attacks and the actor behind them” and the Bangladesh heist, Eric Chien, technical director at Symantec, said in an interview.

Another cybersecurity firm, BAE Systems, said this month that the distinctive computer code used to erase the tracks of hackers in the Bangladesh Bank heist was similar to code used to attack Sony.

Chien said that if North Korea was responsible for the hacks on banks via the SWIFT messaging network it would represent the first known episode of a nation-state stealing money in a cyber attack.

Policymakers, regulators and financial institutions around the world are stepping up scrutiny of the cyber security of the SWIFT payments system after hackers used it to make fraudulent transfers totaling $81 million out of Bank Bangladesh’s account at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.

Symantec and other researchers have also linked the hack to a failed attempt to use fraudulent SWIFT messages to steal from a commercial bank in Vietnam.

In addition, Reuters reported last week that Ecuador’s Banco del Austro had more than $12 million stolen from a Wells Fargo account due to fraudulent transfers over the SWIFT network.

Bangladesh police are also reviewing a nearly-forgotten 2013 cyber heist at the nation’s largest commercial bank, Sonali Bank, for connections to the central bank heist, a senior law enforcement official told Reuters. The unsolved theft of $250,000 at Sonali Bank also involved fraudulent transfer requests sent over the SWIFT network.

(Additional reporting by Narottam Medhora in Bengaluru and Karen Lema in Manila; Editing by Siddharth Cavale, Leslie Adler and Raju Gopalakrishnan)

Apple Takes on Evernote?

Apple’s update to OSX allows users to import Evernote notes into Notes (if you see what I mean) painlessly and effectively: Import your notes and files to the Notes app.

As far as I know, this is the first time an app with some heft has included this capability — there are third party tools for OneNote, but no native functions. 

To me, this is the first serious challenge to Evernote, since why would you bother with Evernote if you’re an iOS and OSX user? 

There are limitations, I suspect. I can’t find any way to add tags and it seems the tags preserved in an enex/xml file are lost on import. That’s a showstopper for me. And of course some of the deeper features of Evernote aren’t there — saved searches and what have you. And if you use Android and/or Windows this is not going to help you.

But I suspect the bigger thing for most heavy users will be a sigh of relief that a player like Apple sees it worthwhile to add this feature. For many users there’s been growing disquiet as to just how  long ‘Ever’ means for the company, and the ramifications for their vast Evernote collections. 

Tweetwars: the social challenge in Twitter ‘capital’, Indonesia

My effort to take a closer look at Twitter’s capital. 

Tweetwars: the social challenge in Twitter ‘capital’, Indonesia | Reuters:

BY JEREMY WAGSTAFF

TWITTER INDONESIA  1

Indonesia has long been the Twitter capital of the world, but rival apps and rancorous political debate are driving users away, illustrating the challenges the microblogging service faces even in markets once considered strongholds.

While Twitter doesn’t break down country figures, Global Web Index data shows Indonesia remains joint first with Mexico in active users among the 34 countries the UK-based metrics company monitors – and significantly ahead in terms of penetration, at 74 percent of all Internet users.

But that masks a deeper shift, analysts and users say, as changing tastes, culture and politics push Indonesians to rival services. The proportion of active Twitter users in Indonesia has dipped 10 percentage points in the past two years, to about one third of Internet users, the Global Web Index data show.

‘Unless Twitter makes changes or there’s some new exciting things on Twitter that can’t be found on other platforms then I don’t think people are coming back to Twitter,’ said Enda Nasution, a blogger and entrepreneur who has nearly 200,000 followers on his Twitter account.

A Twitter spokesman declined to comment on the data, saying he had not seen it, but said younger people in major markets like Indonesia and India were eager users. He said the company was expanding in Indonesia and working with airlines, banks and celebrities to add services and content.

He noted Indonesia was one of the top markets for Twitter’s recent acquisition Periscope, which allows users to stream live video.

Twitter on Wednesday reported its first quarter since going public with no growth in users, and announced changes to its global service.

Among younger users – active Twitter users in the 16-24 year age range – Indonesia lags Spain, Mexico and the UK. JakPat, an Indonesian survey company, found last month that teenagers were less likely to use Twitter regularly than those aged 26 and above, and were switching to other apps such as Facebook and its photosharing sibling Instagram.

But there’s also a push factor: Indonesians are leery of Twitter’s core appeal; its default public feed, where everything a user posts is visible to everyone on the network. What was once an attraction in Indonesia’s sociable culture became a liability in 2014’s fractious presidential election.

FISTICUFFS

As politicians saw the power of Twitter to mobilize support, the network was flooded by digital armies of volunteers and automated accounts, or bots, spawning what Shafiq Pontoh, chief strategic officer at Jakarta-based social media consultancy Provetic, described as a ‘tsunami’ of ‘black campaigns, hoaxes, prejudice, racism, spam, harassment, anonymous accounts and political action to frame topics, issues (and) spin doctoring.’

‘Twitter,’ he said, ‘became an uncomfortable place to be.’

This antagonism hit rock bottom when two Twitter users took a dispute over government car-making policies offline and slugged it out near a sports stadium. Cellphone footage of their fist-fight was broadcast on TV.

‘After that it felt like that if you don’t want to get into trouble, people would retreat and find a more comfortable space online,’ said Nasution, the entrepreneur.

Those online spaces include Facebook’s WhatsApp and Messenger apps, South Korean Kakao’s Path, Japan’s Naver Corp’s LINE and BlackBerry’s Messenger.

Nasution said students he has spoken to use WhatsApp to communicate with their lecturer, and LINE to chat with each other. Or Facebook and Path, says student Jeremiah Mandey, who joined Twitter in 2010. ‘I used Twitter to interact with friends, but now I use it to get news,’ he said.

MISSING A CULTURAL BEAT

Government departments, companies and even President Joko Widodo have embraced Twitter as a public announcement service. The Jakarta police traffic feed, alerting commuters to jams, accidents, potholes and protests, has over 5 million followers.

This provides a service, but is too passive for younger people, says Aulia Masna, an editor. ‘People are on social media to have fun and be entertained,’ he says. ‘Twitter in Indonesia is better known as the place for news, debate and politics. So it attracts the more serious, older crowd.’

The company spokesman said Twitter opened a Jakarta office last year and added staff, in part to expand its user base beyond the capital. The recruits included a government relations expert. It was also working with local bank BNI to allow customers to transact via Twitter.

‘We see great potential in Indonesia, it’s one of the top markets,’ he said, adding Widodo was due to visit Twitter’s headquarters in San Francisco next week.

Simon Kemp, regional managing partner of social media marketing agency We Are Social, said Twitter should focus more on understanding how people in places like Indonesia use their service before tweaking things.

‘People are still looking at these things as a technology base,’ he said, ‘while it’s the cultural driver that determines what you use and when you use it.’

(Reporting by Jeremy Wagstaff, with additional reporting by Cindy Silviana and Yuddy Cahya in Jakarta; Editing by Ian Geoghegan)”

LinkedIn’s Blinkers

Screenshot 2016 02 10 10 41 24

LinkedIn comes across as quite tone deaf when it comes to their UX, makes me wonder if anyone there eats their own dogfood. This annoying popup every time you try to download a deck from SlideShare drives me nuts.

How can it not figure out that no, you don’t want to clip it and remember that?

Uber, $70 bln company, doesn’t seem to test some of its code

Screenshot 2015 12 21 07 40 15

Growing pains, I guess, but this should not be what big disruptive companies look like. I noticed that Uber’s web app offers filters to create lists of historical data — your rides — via criteria like which credit card you used, the city you took the ride in, the month etc. Great for expenses. Except it doesn’t work. The filters simply don’t work.

Uber have confirmed it and said they’re working on it. (It’s still not working.) But for a feature like this, wouldn’t you have done even basic testing, like, well, to see that it worked? 

 

A Tale of Three Asias

Image

Source: GfK data

I’ve just been playing around with some smartphone data from GfK, which collects its data by point-of-sale (POS) tracking in 90+ markets and estimates values based on unsubsidized retail pricing — meaning I guess that these are not the prices that folk may be paying for their phones exactly, but ultimately. The chart above is me calculating the Average Selling Price by dividing unit sales with sales value.  

Raw conclusions: Emerging APAC — India, Indonesia, Cambodia, Philippines, Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam — have the cheapest smartphones in the world, and they’re getting cheaper. Two years ago they were above $200, now they’re less than $160. 

Then there’s Developed Asia: Australia, Hong Kong, Japan, New Zealand, Singapore, South Korea and Taiwan. There smartphones are the most expensive in the world, by a yard or two. Although prices have fallen too, by 8%, in the two years, folk in this part of the world still pay $150 more for their smartphones.

And then there’s China. China started below the Middle East and Africa, Central/Eastern Europe and Latin American but ended it up above all three, with the ASP rising by 16%. Interestingly, the rise occured in one spurt (making me worry there’s a problem with the data, though this might be down to the launch of the iPhone 6 in China in the last quarter of 2014. ASPs there have held steady since.) 

Bottom line: Anyone selling phones in Asia — indeed, anything that involves mobile — needs to think in terms of at least three distinct markets, in terms of purchasing power, in terms of computing power, in terms of screen size and connectivity. 

iPad Pro Thoughts

Jean-Louis Gassée again hits the right note in his piece on the iPad Pro: Wrong Questions | Monday Note. Tim Cook shouldn’t go around saying it will replace the laptop. It might for him, but the laptop/PC has evolved to be used in myriad ways, not all of which are best suited to a big screen and unwieldy, optional keyboard. 

Why not say that the iPad Pro will helpfully replace a laptop for 60%, or 25% of conventional personal computer users? In keeping with Steve Jobs’ Far Better At Some Key Things formula, why not say that the iPad Pro is a great laptop replacement for graphic designers, architects, mechanical engineers, musicians, videographers…and that the audience will grow even larger as new and updated apps take advantage of the iPad Pro’s screen size, speed, and very likable Pencil.

And it’s not just that. Taking up his and others’ theme that at each stage of hardware evolution we’ve lacked the imagination to realise what these devices might best be used for, I imagine the big screen and power of the iPad Pro will yield uses that we so far have not considered. 

As with wearables, these devices are as much about creating (this is something I’ve never been able to do before) or extending new markets (I could do this before, but it wasn’t much fun) as anything else. I’m not about to replace my laptop with an iPad Pro, but I could see a lot of things I would love to do with it — music editing, photo editing and organising, and maybe a bit of doodling. As in Horace Dediu’s video  The new iPad is like nothing we’ve ever seen before there’s lots of great visualization possibilities too. 

Is it a work tool? Could be, for some industries. It’s not a very mobile beast. 

The question is: while developers see enough reward in supporting it with apps? 

From pixels to pixies: the future of touch is sound

My piece on using sound and lasers to create 3-dimensional interfaces. It’s still some ways off, but it’s funky. 

Screenshot 2015 10 01 10 49 33

Screenshot from Ultrahaptics video demo

From pixels to pixies: the future of touch is sound | Reuters:

SINGAPORE | BY JEREMY WAGSTAFF

(The video version: The next touchscreen is sound you can feel | Reuters.com

Ultrasound – inaudible sound waves normally associated with cancer treatments and monitoring the unborn – may change the way we interact with our mobile devices.

Couple that with a different kind of wave – light, in the form of lasers – and we’re edging towards a world of 3D, holographic displays hovering in the air that we can touch, feel and control.

UK start-up Ultrahaptics, for example, is working with premium car maker Jaguar Land Rover [TAMOJL.UL] to create invisible air-based controls that drivers can feel and tweak. Instead of fumbling for the dashboard radio volume or temperature slider, and taking your eyes off the road, ultrasound waves would form the controls around your hand.

‘You don’t have to actually make it all the way to a surface, the controls find you in the middle of the air and let you operate them,’ says Tom Carter, co-founder and chief technology offjauiclinkeer of Ultrahaptics.

Such technologies, proponents argue, are an advance on devices we can control via gesture – like Nintendo’s Wii or Leap Motion’s sensor device that allows users to control computers with hand gestures. That’s because they mimic the tactile feel of real objects by firing pulses of inaudible sound to a spot in mid air.

They also move beyond the latest generation of tactile mobile interfaces, where companies such as Apple and Huawei [HWT.UL] are building more response into the cold glass of a mobile device screen.

Ultrasound promises to move interaction from the flat and physical to the three dimensional and air-bound. And that’s just for starters.

By applying similar theories about waves to light, some companies hope to not only reproduce the feel of a mid-air interface, but to make it visible, too.

Japanese start-up Pixie Dust Technologies, for example, wants to match mid-air haptics with tiny lasers that create visible holograms of those controls. This would allow users to interact, say, with large sets of data in a 3D aerial interface.

‘It would be like the movie ‘Iron Man’,’ says Takayuki Hoshi, a co-founder, referencing a sequence in the film where the lead character played by Robert Downey Jr. projects holographic images and data in mid-air from his computer, which he is then able to manipulate by hand.

BROKEN PROMISES

Japan has long been at the forefront of this technology. Hiroyuki Shinoda, considered the father of mid-air haptics, said he first had the idea of an ultrasound tactile display in the 1990s and filed his first patent in 2001.

His team at the University of Tokyo is using ultrasound technology to allow people to remotely see, touch and interact with things or each other. For now, the distance between the two is limited by the use of mirrors, but one of its inventors, Keisuke Hasegawa, says this could eventually be converted to a signal, making it possible to interact whatever the distance.

For sure, promises of sci-fi interfaces have been broken before. And even the more modest parts of this technology are some way off. Lee Skrypchuk, Jaguar Land Rovers’ Human Machine Interface Technical Specialist, said technology like Ultrahaptics’ was still 5-7 years away from being in their cars.

And Hoshi, whose Pixie Dust has made promotional videos of people touching tiny mid-air sylphs, says the cost of components needs to fall further to make this technology commercially viable. ‘Our task for now is to tell the world about this technology,’ he says.

Pixie Dust is in the meantime also using ultrasound to form particles into mid-air shapes, so-called acoustic levitation, and speakers that direct sound to some people in a space and not others – useful in museums or at road crossings, says Hoshi.

FROM KITCHEN TO CAR

But the holy grail remains a mid-air interface that combines touch and visuals.

Hoshi says touching his laser plasma sylphs feels like a tiny explosion on the fingertips, and would best be replaced by a more natural ultrasound technology.

And even laser technology itself is a work in progress.

Another Japanese company, Burton Inc, offers live outdoor demonstrations of mid-air laser displays fluttering like fireflies. But founder Hidei Kimura says he’s still trying to interest local governments in using it to project signs that float in the sky alongside the country’s usual loudspeaker alerts during a natural disaster.

Perhaps the biggest obstacle to commercializing mid-air interfaces is making a pitch that appeals not just to consumers’ fantasies but to the customer’s bottom line.

Norwegian start-up Elliptic Labs, for example, says the world’s biggest smartphone and appliance manufacturers are interested in its mid-air gesture interface because it requires no special chip and removes the need for a phone’s optical sensor.

Elliptic CEO Laila Danielsen says her ultrasound technology uses existing microphones and speakers, allowing users to take a selfie, say, by waving at the screen.

Gesture interfaces, she concedes, are nothing new. Samsung Electronics had infra-red gesture sensors in its phones, but says ‘people didn’t use it’.

Danielsen says her technology is better because it’s cheaper and broadens the field in which users can control their devices. Next stop, she says, is including touchless gestures into the kitchen, or cars.

(Reporting by Jeremy Wagstaff; Editing by Ian Geoghegan)