POWA down, Zapp and CurrentC next?

powa downSo we’ve started to see the power houses fall. We first had the multiple failures of Google Wallet using NFC. Then we had the telcos club together to create Softcard (formerly ISIS) and Weve, both using NFC and both struggling. Softcard was eventually sold to Google for $100m, god knows why, and O2 have taken complete control of Weve since their O2 wallet, also using NFC, crumbled. We’ve now started the demise of the less institutional mobile payments companies with POWA (QRCode based), which is all but dead and buried, it’s now time to start thinking who’s next? and guess what they’re not start-ups.

First we start with Zapp in the UK. Zapp was launched in Autumn 2014 looking to take advantage of both QRCode based technology and NFC. They re-branded a number of times, each time doing a shoddy job. Vocalink has invested more than £33m in to Zapp with further investment from institution and private investors, taking their overall investment up to £75m and yet they’ve produced nothing! As mentioned they were originally taking on retail alongside Paypal and co, but now they’ve changed their plans to allow customers to basically pay online using a button that connects directly to their bank account and thus bypassing the card schemes. And the success? None, all this money and they’ve basically got a payment gateway that no one uses. £75m, hundreds of employees and they’ve produced something a coder in his back bedroom could do in a couple of months between masturbation sessions. Really…

Now we have CurrentC in the US. Great name by the way guys! The major retailers in America were being bent over a barrel by Apple, Google and the card schemes, so  7-Eleven, Alon Brands, Best Buy, CVS Health, Darden Restaurants, HMSHost, Hy-Vee, Lowe’s, Michaels, Publix, Sears Holdings, Shell Oil Products US, Sunoco, Target Corporation and Walmart clubbed together. The initial retailers that are part of the new company account for about $1 trillion in annual sales, because of this ‘This will be the success story’ I hear you cry, WRONG! What happens when you get so many chiefs around the table with egos the size of the universe, bugger all, that’s what! They all want things their way that no decisions ever get made and everyone leaves the room in a huff. So much so Walmart has put two fingers up to the rest and created their own version with Walmart Pay. Other reports suggest, CurrentC (trading style of MCX) are in big trouble. They’ve had tens of millions invested, they’ve struggled to get a solution that works and they’ve delayed launches more than 3 times. They’re now trialling a scaled back version in a hand full of stores, but it’s not even receiving lukewarm success.

downloadFor me the only real innovation to come out of mobile payments is LoopPay. These guys created an incredible product allowing users to use their mobile device to pay at more than 10m merchants, or 90 percent of retail locations in the US. LoopPay’s technology uses a metal coil to emit a magnetic field that can communicate to most card terminals. This basically means that holding the phone up against the part of the terminal reader where you usually swipe your card, it transmits a frequency that means the terminal thinks the cards has been swiped and the transaction goes through. Now for me…That’s innovation! In early 2015 Samsung bought LoopPay and has integrated this in to their new devices. Samsung bought LoopPay for roughly $250m and what a bargain they got themselves.

I’d love to know the nitty gritty of why these companies, who raise such big amounts, can’t tell their arses from their elbows. The frustrating thing, because of who they are, the businesses they are associated with and their friends at VC’s, Private Equity and Private Investors they are absorbing all the cash out there that real innovators and start-ups need. Just with the companies I’ve mentioned above there’s more than $700m invested and they’ve all produced absolutely nothing that’s changed the payment world. It’s about time investors, whether VC, Private Equity or Individuals pulled their heads out their arses and look at whether a business has a product rather than what a company is associated to or what someone’s done in the past at big companies. Maybe then mobile payments will see some real innovation rather than the flat joke it is today.

Windows 10 Lumia and Surface Launch

Yesterday we saw the launch of Microsoft Windows 10 Devices. The categories that most interested me, as I’m not a gamer were the 2 new Lumia’s, Surface Pro 4 and the Surface Book.

In this blog, 1 of 2, I want to talk about the Lumia 950 & 950xl. I was really quite disappointed and yet at the same time not surprised by the Lumia launch. For me this was a leftover from the Nokia overpayment. Fingers crossed the Lumia brand will disappear in the next 18 months as Microsoft, I believe, will release new flagship phones mid-late 2016.

I’m following the internet here and think the branding ‘Surface‘ is perfect for all their device names. It’s a cool name and forward thinking as it applies to every possible product they could create. It’s much better than Lumia.

950-940-800x450The phones themselves, are ugly. No real design has gone in to them like previous Lumia devices. For example I run the Lumia 930. It’s a great phone, good weight, great design with a great camera. The new Lumias 950 & 950xl not so much.

Other than how ugly they are I was really disappointed with the new feature of the sign-in. I realise that using the retina to sign-in is intriguing idea moving forward, however, according to other reviewers who have had the device in their hands, the phone has to be high up and close to the eye for it to work properly. For me it’s like the Google sign-in with your face feature it’s more a fad/cliche with no actual reasons to use it.

I’d have much preferred a stepping stone enhancement of finger print recognition to lock and unlock the phone like Google and especially the iPhone. As a man in Fintech I think it has been revolutionary of Apple to incorporate this in to the phone and I’d like to see Microsoft do the same.

android-features-heroI am also disappointed with the idea of linking the phone to a monitor and keyboard via a docking station. This may sound revolutionary, but Ubuntu have been doing this for years with their devices. Ubuntu even tried to raise a world record $32m for its Ubuntu Edge device, which actually looked really cool, think they managed to raised about $24m in the end. Not only did Ubuntu work with Android to make this happen, but Motorola got in on the action07-moto-webtop-accessories_610x377 with ‘Webtop’ that is available with your Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich and up Motorola
devices. Not only could you link the Motorola Razr to a monitor and keyboard, but also a laptop.

The next step is quite obviously utilising the Cloud, especially Azure, with your mobile phone, I just expected more… but I don’t know what more… Maybe, like it always does, it comes down to the design of what they’re presenting. You have people working seriously hard to make products sexy and make us want to use them but the let down of how the Lumia’s looked really took the wind out of the sails for me and I think it will for their sales figures. And yes I did see there was a PUN opportunity, but come on reader you’re better than that.

Overall I’m looking forward to the hangover of Nokia sailing off in to the distance and seeing some great design coming in the next iterations and love the liquid cooling systems in the 950xl, but am still concerned with the potential of how hot it may get. I’ve personally sent 2 930’s back for overheating.

As a first mover on devices think I’ll have to wait for the next iteration of hopefully a SURFACE phone. However, don’t think this is the case for the Surface book or Pro 4.