Why Apple Pay’s Slow Start Doesn’t Mean It’s a Failure


From my opinion piece in MIT Technology Review:

A year after Apple Pay was announced, the mobile wallet built into the iPhone doesn’t look as if it will “forever change the way all of us buy things,” as Apple CEO Tim Cook said it would.

Only 13 percent of people with phones that can use Apple Pay have tried it, according to a June survey by consumer research firm InfoScout and the payments industry site PYMNTS.com. The survey also found that only a third of iPhone 6 consumers who were in a store that takes Apple Pay actually used it, down from almost half three months earlier. On top of that, Apple Pay still accounts for only 1 percent of physical store transactions in the U.S.—a “microscopic” amount, says David S. Evans, founder of payments consultant Market Platform Dynamics.

What happened?

Exactly what we should have expected, actually. It was never a secret to those close to the payments and retail businesses that usage of Apple Pay would be slow to build. … But it’s too early to write the post-mortem on Apple Pay. In the space of a year, Apple has managed to make more headway than any other mobile wallet contender has to date. And several developments suggest that in the next couple of years, Tim Cook might be proved right after all. …

Read the rest of the story.

The One Killer Feature Apple TV Needs Is Still Missing


From my Forbes blog:

As the new Apple TV video streamer debuts today, it is still missing the one key feature it needs to become a must-have device: TV programs and movies all its own.

The new version of Apple’s not-quite-a-hobby-anymore looks to be a major improvement over the existing hockey puck. It has a new remote control with a touchpad that will make Apple TV good for gaming, as well as voice control using Siri and an app store so other developers of games, video apps, and more can offer additional reasons to buy the device.

But most important, according to various reports, one most recently in Variety, Apple is currently exploring anew how it might boost Apple TV’s prospects by entering the growing fray in original video programming. Earlier, there were persistent reports that Apple would offer a Internet-based bundle of existing TV programming. But it’s believed that rights issues and a reluctance by programmers and networks to endanger their cash cows have stalled that service. “Original programming is the only solution to Apple’s biggest problem in the video world–that is, that nobody wants to sell Apple content rights,” says Forrester analyst James McQuivey.

Either way, it’s clear that Apple has designs on its own bundle of programming, especially programming no one else has, to drive more interest in all its devices. And now Apple TV may loom more important in that effort than it has so far. A stronger Apple move into television and online video is long overdue, but instead of the television set many people had expected for years, it appears that for now Apple TV is the horse the company plans to continue riding.

The challenge for Apple is that its rivals have galloped ahead of Apple TV, which hasn’t changed much in three years. … Given Apple TV’s solid but unspectacular base, original programming would offer the last piece that help recharge it into the home hub that Apple appears to want it to become. …

Read the complete post.

Billions Of Online Ads Are About To Die A Well-Deserved Death

From my Forbes blog:

Businesses that run annoying ads on your smartphone and laptop are about to get a rude awakening.

Not only are online ad blockers quickly gaining in popularity, now two very big companies will soon offer us new ways to avoid in-your-face video and animated ads, pop-ups, and other intrusive ads that plague our online existence.

Today, Sept. 1, Google will start blocking ads that use Adobe’s Flash software, employed widely by video advertisers, in its Chrome browser. And as early as next week, Apple is expected to release its new mobile operating software for iPhones and iPads that will allow the installation of apps that keep ads from appearing in its Safari Web browser.

These developments suggest a new era in which you’ll finally be able to zap annoying ads like those in the video above. For a variety of reasons, it’s unlikely that ad blocking alone will cause advertisers and publishers a big problem. But the fact that the two biggest forces in mobile phones are both cracking down on annoying ads means the online ad business is about to change in a big way. …

Read the rest of the post.

Behind The Would-Be Siri Killer Facebook M, A Battle Over AI’s Future

Facebook M

Facebook M

From my Forbes blog:

Facebook’s test release today of a digital assistant inside its Messenger app is a shot across the bow of the Internet’s biggest companies: Apple, Google, Microsoft, and Amazon.com. It’s also the latest salvo in a high-stakes battle over the ways artificial intelligence should transform the way we live and work.

Facebook M is intended to allow users of Facebook Messenger to pose any query or service request in natural language and get a personalized answer immediately. The key wrinkle that sets it apart from Apple’s Siri, Google Now, and Microsoft Cortana is that there’s a team of human “trainers” who will step in when the machines aren’t quite up to the challenge.

So far, it’s only available to a few hundred people in the San Francisco Bay Area, and its timing and scope are unclear. But judging from a brief post by VP of Messaging Products David Marcus, Facebook M is clearly a major bid in a quickening battle to be the virtual assistant of choice, taking on not only Siri, Google Now, and Cortana, but also a raft of upstarts such as Luka, Magic, and Operator.

And in the mobile age, virtual assistants could prove to be the key product that will define which companies dominate the next decade of online services, just as search was for the past decade. “Whoever creates the intelligent assistant will be the first place people go to find things, buy things, and everything else,” former AI researcher Tim Tuttle, CEO of the voice interface firm Expect Labs, said last week.

But what’s even more interesting in the bigger picture is how Facebook M plays into a longstanding, fundamental battle over how artificial intelligence should be employed–one that has recently come into sharper focus. … The upshot: Until and unless AI gets so good that machines can anticipate what we want, people will remain a key component of truly intelligent online services.

Read the entire post.

With Android Pay, Google Closes Gap With Apple In Mobile Payments

From my Forbes.com blog:

Apple vaulted ahead of Google in mobile payments last September when it announced Apple Pay, its long-awaited entry into mobile payments. By comparison, the three-year-old Google Wallet looked tired and limited.

Now, Apple’s head start has nearly vanished. Today at its I/O conference in San Francisco for software developers, Google introduced Android Pay, a successor to Google Wallet that, when it launches this summer, will come close to matching Apple Pay for making payments via smartphones easy in stores and inside apps.

They won’t quite be identical. Apple Pay’s security system is somewhat different, and Android phones won’t have fingerprint identification like Apple’s until the new version of Android comes out this summer, and even then only on phones that have fingerprint I.D. capability. But they’ll be close enough that consumers should be comfortable using either one in largely the same way–and at the very same 700,000 store locations that have the right checkout terminals.

That’s a big step forward for Google’s mobile payment ambitions. A competitive mobile wallet is key for the search giant because the ability to pay with a couple taps on a smartphone will grease the e-commerce skids for app developers and marketers alike.

If you’re tuning into the mobile payments business recently, you might wonder if Google is simply copying Apple. Actually, it’s more the other way around. …

Read the entire post.

Did Apple Flub The Timing Of The Apple Watch?


From my Forbes blog:

The Apple Watch reviews are already in, and the verdict is pretty consistent: Apple’s long-awaited smartwatch looks great, but it’s slow, the interface is a little confusing, and too many of the apps are half-baked.

The decidedly mixed reviews are unusual for Apple, even for an entirely new product. I know there were people who panned the iPod and the iPhone when they were first released, but they were clearly idiots. This time, I’m not so sure.

In fact, the rather obvious and oft-mentioned negatives suggest that if another company had produced this smartwatch—impossible, since it doesn’t work unless you have an iPhone 5 or 6—the reviews would have been even more negative. Even the technorati seem unimpressed.

The muted enthusiasm—in some cases outright advice not to buy the current version—raises a central question: Did the company launch the Apple Watch, which will be available for pre-order Friday ahead of deliveries starting April 24, too soon? True, almost all the Apple Watch models were sold out within 30 minutes on Friday morning preordering, though as one story rightly puts it, “it is not clear whether this is due to relatively high demand or low production.” There were many reports in recent weeks about limited supplies, either because of manufacturing issues or because Apple was purposely limiting production.

Apple is sometimes criticized for being late to the party on some products, only to prove after it quickly kills most of the competition that its timing was actually perfect. A few people point out that the Apple Watch is also too late because other smartwatches and wearables from Samsung, Motorola, Fitbit and many others are already out. But a number of signs point to the opposite and very un-Apple-like problem: It’s too early.

Read the reasons why in the full post.

This Man’s Betting On The Technology Behind Apple Pay – And Even He Says It’s Years Away From Wide Adoption

Osama Bedier, founder and CEO of Poynt

Osama Bedier, founder and CEO of Poynt

From my Forbes blog:

When Apple CEO Tim Cook unveiled Apple Pay in September, he predicted that it would “forever change the way all of us buy things.” As I wrote in a recent post, while he ultimately might be proven right, Apple’s mobile wallet is likely to take years to catch on widely.

Although that assessment is nearly universally accepted among people who actually know how payments work, I got a lot of pushback on that from Apple fanatics as well as at least one Forbes contributor.

So I decided to ask someone who has bet at least partly on Apple Pay’s eventual success: Osama Bedier, a former vice president at both PayPal and Google, where he headed the search giant’s mobile wallet effort. Bedier is now founder and CEO of Poynt, which just announced plans to build a slick-looking smart point-of-sale terminal that can take most existing forms of payment–including those facilitated by Near Field Communication, the method used in both Apple Pay and Google Wallet to send data from a smartphone to the register. Suffice to say, when it comes to payments, Bedier not only knows what he’s talking about, he’s pretty agnostic about the many competing mobile payment methods.

His take? To start with the positive, he says Apple’s timing looks good–not a surprising take, since Bedier’s making the same bet that the timing is right. “Apple is good at jumping on bandwagons they think could take off,” he says. That’s in contrast, he notes, to Google, which “gets infatuated with technology”–though he also says that Google Wallet helped kickstart a move by tens of thousands of retail outlets to install NFC-capable readers.

Still, Bedier says, Apple Pay “isn’t going to happen next year. It’s going to take four years before it happens everywhere.” What’s more, Apple Pay works only on iPhones (and eventually Apple Watches), and that’s unlikely to change soon, so Apple Pay won’t be a standard except for iPhones. …

Read the rest of the story.