Death of the PC? You don’t have a clue what one is

13 10 2015

Apple, Google and Microsoft have only just finished their events and we are now subjected to the usual fanboi articles from the press. Now, I’ve come to get used to this, articles that feel so unbelievable biased to one of these tech giants over the other two, often stupidly so, but recently, the articles themselves just are not understanding the basics of technology or what’s been going on over the past decade, let alone what appears to be happening right now.

My main gripe though in this post is the lack of understanding what a PC actually is. It seems that journalists and fanbois alike, think a PC is a 1990s desktop PC, that’s simply crazy. In addition, people like gartner and forbes with their market analysis constantly needs to re-asses the definition of a PC in the tech market, simply because PC in its pure form covers the vast majority of devices available.

Mobile is PC

First off, let’s just clarify one thing, a mobile phone or a tablet is a PC. PC = Personal Computer, so mobile devices if anything fit that terminology much more closely than what everyone it seems thinks a PC is, a good old 1990s desktop. Mobile is so personal, and it’s a computer, so it’s a personal computer.

As soon as you grasp this, it becomes clear why Microsoft (who seems to be forever linked with desktop PCs) is starting to make its own hardware, specifically aimed at “mobile” and more importantly, expanding that market away from where the likes of Apple and Google dominate. By that, I mean pure “mobile”, as in more focus on personal, less on the computing aspect.

What’s been going on

Since Apple really turned a mobile phone into a form of PC, the market has been shifting towards smaller, more personal devices, and as such, removes the need for homes etc to purchase a good old desktop machine. What has been a complete success is actually removing functionality and reducing computing power. I for one could do more with an original windows mobile pda device than I could do with an iPhone for example. Hell, I used to be able to control servers from that thing. But, the usability of it wasn’t simple, and to be honest, the vast vast vast majority of users use nothing more than a web browser and a handful of simple applications on mobile devices. Because of this, Apple made another great innovation, and that was simply making the phone bigger, so it was easy to use on the sofa. Enter the iPad.

Tablets really are where the majority of day to day users now carry out their computing (if not still on their mobile phone). The reason is because most tablets again, with the web, and access to good apps provides everything the majority of users understand. However, sales if iPads etc seem to have reached that point of market saturation, and that’s not a surprise, end consumers cant keep on buying, buying and buying the same thing. In essence, the PC market is now moving away from desktops to tablets, but that’s still the same PC market.

Microsoft trying to be different?

With the release of Windows 8 and the Microsoft Surface, Microsoft essentially said “yes, we are very late to mobile devices, but we have a vision were these devices are just as powerful as the desktop you used to have”. Now the reason this isn’t that popular is because the vast majority of users doesn’t need that power or complexity. Hell, the tech journalists don’t even understand that’s what Microsoft is trying to do, nor why.

However, the Surface Pro device hit some notes with large chunks of the mobile PC market, and that chunk was focussed around productivity. Though the majority of users out there don’t need to be productive, there is a market for people who are productive and want productivity from their devices. How many people do you know (in business) who turn up with their iPad. They may make some notes on there, but then when it comes to carrying out anything worth doing, pull out a laptop that appears to be a number of years old? Essentially that user is now carrying two devices around with them? That’s not the point of tablet or mobile computing is it.

Microsoft therefore tried to provide for that niche market, in the hope to get a foothold I believe and then expand that to us daily users. It’s taken until Windows 10, and the most recent launch event from Microsoft to really start to show how effective this approach is. With the Surface Pro 3, and Windows 10, Microsoft delivers a device that is Mobile. Its not an old desktop vision for the company or Windows, rather its Mobile and personal first, however with no computing or productivity compromising.

Going forward

Who knows what the market will do. However, Microsoft must be hitting the right notes with sales of Surface Pro devices doing well. You have to just look at Apple and the iPad Pro to see that Apple and Google are aware that Microsoft approach will see them selling devices and potentially taking away market share from them both. After all, why carry an iPad and a Laptop? Or have an iPad and an old desktop machine at home or work when you can have a Surface Pro tablet that is a tablet, your laptop and with a “dock” accessory, replaces your desktop machine too. That’s three devices in one?

For businesses, Surface Pro allows them to provide a single device to their employees, and takes away an utter nightmare regarding provisioning of hardware, policies, security, ISMS etc etc. For consumers it brings the same common sense approach. Why have two/three devices? Why not have a tablet that is my laptop and desktop? Apple and Google have spotted this is a real threat, hence the release of their own “pro” versions of their tablets, though neither has the innovation here or capability to compete with Microsoft Windows 10 or its power on a mobile tablet.

We see that Microsoft is going further with this, especially with Windows Phone 10 and “Continuum” enabling your Phone to replace your desktop with the simple connection to a dock device! That’s your phone powering a real desktop scree,, keyboard and mouse, allowing any user to be productive with just their phone. Enter universal apps from Microsoft Windows 10 and you really see that Microsoft is banking on mobile pcs as actual computing productivity devices, not just personal devices. This theme continues with Surface Book, a laptop first, that can be your tablet (detach the screen) or desktop replacement.

What’s clear, is that the “mobile” market is the PC marketplace, and that mobile appears to be now embracing the need for productivity and computing power. With the market now moving that way, is Microsoft on the right path to take pole position in our computing lives again? Is Microsoft devices along with Windows 10 on the right path, which is all about mobile computing experiences across a range of devices, providing us with real freedom of choice on how to carry out our computing activities while not compromising on productivity or power?

In a recent article in the daily telegraph (Best of luck Microsoft, but the Surface Book isn’t going to save the PC) I couldn’t but think “Oh my God this guy just doesn’t have a clue”. If you think a laptop is a traditional “PC pitch” from Microsoft then you don’t have a clue about what has been going on, what a PC really is or what we are seeing from the tech giants or the marketplace. To be fair though, graphs showing PC sales don’t get it either, they focus on traditional desktop machines, which is a narrow view of the PC market.

One thing we must also remember is that a desktop is easy to upgrade. Many many many consumers out there have old desktop machines and simply update them. The same can be said of businesses, with simple upgrades to RAM, most desktop machines have their life extended quite considerably. Throw into the mix that you can still run Windows 10 on these devices and why do you need to buy a desktop as often as any other device.

The traditional desktop may not be the entire market anymore, but as for the “PC” market, it is simply growing and growing with many more devices delivering personal computing experiences.  Dominating the PC market is still the playing field, the devices just look different!





The big bank cyber cover-up

15 04 2015

Something that I have long suspected (and been aware of) is that banks don’t like admitting when money goes missing. It doesn’t matter if it is their money, or yours and mine, the point is if anything goes missing it looks bad for an institution that is supposed to be your secure holder of money. It really doesn’t matter the circumstances either, be it with a dodgy employee doing something naughty at the cashier’s desk, or customers being subjected to cybercrime and fraud, the fact is the bank won’t report it…This thought of mine is backed up by a statement made by the City of London Police chief Adrian Leppard, claiming that he believes up to 80% of online crime goes unreported. Have a read of this article in finextra http://www.finextra.com/news/fullstory.aspx?newsitemid=27226

The challenge

So why is cybercrime growing so massively? The simple fact is, something I’ve been complaining about for a long long time now, is that no matter what you do, you cannot secure something that is inherently not secure. What do I mean? Well card details are not secure. They are printed on the thing, nothing sophisticated is needed to get hold of card details at all. This means card schemes, banks, payment service providers, online payment gateways, businesses, all have to spend vast amounts of money on trying to prove that those card details (at the point of a purchase) are in the hand of the owner. The simple fact that I can get those card details so easily, means that for a person willing to undertake some cyber fraud or card fraud in general, it’s easy, it’s a weak point in the system.

My point is proven even when you add technology upon technology upon technology. Just look at the recent issues with Apple Pay. Apple, claiming the system is so secure is actually not a million miles away from the truth, if Apple could secure the card details that were added to the device, but since these are not secure in any way shape or form, it’s easy to just add other peoples card details to my own Apple device and away I go…

The solution?

The solution is so blatantly simple it frustrates me. Move away from Cards! We don’t move away from cards because of the cost of the card scheme infrastructure, an infrastructure that is so massively outdated in today’s cyber world. Card schemes are simply easy pickings for cyber fraudsters.

When I say move away from cards, I don’t mean just replace the physical card with your phone, ala Apple Pay, I mean ditch the scheme itself. There really is no need for a card to be required in a transaction, this is proven by a number of mobile payment technologies out there that move away from card schemes and look at their own scheme effectively, utilising “e-money”. These businesses / schemes have a massive opportunity to provide security that simply removes fraud, build technology built with modern day living security in mind, and all of a sudden, the fraudster’s life is much much harder. If you detach from the dependency on a card scheme, you have payment systems that are secure, you reduce fraud, you reduce risk, and you drastically reduce the cost of a transaction for a business, and ultimately the cost of products / services consumers purchase.

The only issue, business adoption, educating businesses of the benefits to them, the cost savings and the difference in user experience. That’s the massive challenge, something why mobile payment start-ups are failing. Business owners simply don’t have the time to be educated on this stuff….

So the company that cracks that nut, could get a new scheme out there and start reducing the levels of cyber-crime….Sure the banks eventually will like that idea!





The cost of plastic

7 02 2014

We live in a digital age, and yet all our online and over the phone payments are carried out based on a very non-digital technology – payment cards. Essentially cards are protected by you needing to know a few numbers off the face of the card, and 3 additional security numbers on the back. If you aren’t the only one who knows those numbers, then you aren’t the only one limited to spending on that card.  Yes, there are many new security measures online, such as 3d secure and verified by blah, and yes, there are endless reams of PCI compliancy rules that businesses should follow. But at the end of the day, a bunch of numbers is hardly the easiest thing to secure.

 

The end of cards?

Cards have served us well for a long time now. But the cost of issuing a piece of plastic with some numbers on, isn’t cheap (on such a large scale). The costs of trying to protect those numbers for banks and mainly businesses are always on the increase, and this always results on businesses being charged more to accept a card based payment. What’s worse is, that when that card isn’t physically present, such as online or over the phone (especially when online sales are increasing) the poor old merchant is charged even more for the pleasure of accepting their customer’s payment.

What we must remember is that fraud doesn’t cost your issuing bank much at all. Rather it is the merchant who sold the goods that loses out financially, and they will lose out on the value of whatever they sold. For small businesses that’s quite a risk, especially when they branch out onto the web. I have known many small businesses to be stung like this, loosing thousands in revenue and of course lost product (a double hit for them).

Now we have a number of alternative payment systems and services starting to become available, some in the form of virtual currencies, mobile payments, different payment schemes and processes online (ala PayPal) and these are starting to become quite disruptive to the traditional card schemes and banking business. With alternative payment options growing in popularity, could this possible be the beginning of the end of the card? I say the beginning, as cards are heavily entrenched in our daily lives, and to date, only Starbucks IMHO has shown that consumers and businesses are starting to really make a choice when making a payment – and opting for something other than their card.

 

Digital payments for a digital age

I am a strong believer that when the technology landscape changes drastically, you need to embrace it fully. When cards were first becoming popular, there was no internet, no over the phone payments nor over the phone banking. But the internet is here, and cards haven’t changed at all. The infrastructure hasn’t changed, all that has changed is that software developers let us type in our card details so that the card can be identified. Not much evolution or embracing of the new digital age there.

Payment schemes need to be designed with their current landscape in mind, payments need to be designed for the digital world, which with mobile devices now blends seamlessly at times into the real world. This is what we have done at CloudZync. We have designed a payment scheme for the digital world that can be used online and out there in the real world, day to day via your personal mobile device.

For me, this is just the beginning of looking at how we transact, how commerce takes place, how customer relationships are forged in the real and digital worlds, and it’s an exciting time to be in this space. CloudZync is pushing the boundaries of what we expect from financial products, commerce, customer relationships and in terms of technology making our lives easier. Technology making my life easier and safer as a consumer, and the same applies to businesses. Technology making sales, transactions, experiences and relationships easier to manage and more profitable. To achieve these goals, we must always challenge what has gone before and that includes cards and banks…





Tech looking for a business problem to solve

4 02 2014

There are some wonderful new technologies coming to the market at an alarming pace it seems, some technology really helps a particular market, perhaps speeding up processes, changing our experiences, even having quite an impact on our lives. Then we have numerous technology that seems to be made, simply because it can be.

Just in 2014 alone (already and it’s the start of February) I’ve been exposed to a number of new technologies that are technically impressive, but they don’t have a problem to solve. They don’t have a real way of impacting our lives as consumers, or as businesses. Technology for technology sake is a phrase that I find myself uttering quite often, and none more so than when I look at the world of mobile and of-course, mobile payments.

 

My friend, NFC

NFC is a technology that has been around for years now. I remember it in an early Nokia phone (dumb phone not a smartphone) and it’s never really delivered anything in terms of impact on my life. I will be honest, most phones I have owned have supported NFC, and yet I have never used the technology for anything more than showing that it works.

Don’t get me wrong, there are some wonderful applications of NFC, but it’s a technology that doesn’t really solve any real issue, no matter what it is used for. Sure, it’s great for sharing data quickly, perhaps triggering music from my phone to play on a set of speakers when I rest my phone on them, great, but has that changed much compared to playing via Bluetooth? No, not really, if anything, NFC is more limiting than my Bluetooth pairing of speakers to my phone.

When we look at mobile payments, I still can’t shake the feeling that it’s a great technology trying to fit into this space, even though it doesn’t quite fit.

At the end of the day, NFC feels like a great technology, but for the sake of technology. NFC doesn’t change the game.

 

Bluetooth beacons

The latest mobile and mobile payment tech to raise its head is beacons. Apple launch their iBeacon and PayPal have released information on their own Beacon project coming in 2015 (possibly). Both are quite neat, and pretty cool technology, they demonstrate well, and when you read about them you do think “wow – that could be cool”. However, the actual use of the technology again doesn’t solve anything, or remove anything from a process (deals or payments).

Even if a Beacon checks me into the store, I still need to have my mobile phone app (maybe even open), I still need to pay at the till using a payment account (maybe PayPal which isn’t exactly cheap or merchant friendly) and I still need an additional way of assigning that transaction to me the customer. With that in mind, is it worth me having Bluetooth switched on and having my phone pinging off beacons?

Even if PayPal manage all this, has it changed my life as a consumer? Probably not. Because there is no added value. All I have done is identify myself to a PayPal system that I am in that store, and at the expense of battery life. There is no added value to the merchant nor to the customer, only a technology that demonstrates well. We must remember too the practicality of all this for the consumer, even if all stores supported beacons, how long before I need to charge my phone? Having my phone constantly pinging beacons via Bluetooth is not good for my battery life, or my sense of security as a consumer. So much so, that most people have Bluetooth disabled on their devices by default, rendering the whole proposition pointless.

Apple beacon is a different approach, it’s not focused on payments and you have to open the app as the consumer, giving you a little more control. However again the concept of only providing deals or information through the beacon app or iPhone won’t stop businesses having to show deals visually in the store or online. Has this made life easier for the business, or actually made it harder? After all, a business won’t want to lose those customers who aren’t on the Apple iPhone platform. What about the majority of smartphone users who are on Android? That growing number on Windows Phone? What about the number of people who don’t even have a smartphone? Do we really expect a store to not provide all those offers exclusively to their iPhone customers? No, so life isn’t easier for the merchant, it’s more complex. No matter the merits of beacons, it still isn’t a game changer for businesses or consumers.

 

Wrapping up someone else’s tech

This is a particular bug bear of mine. There are lots of technologies now out there, and proposed solutions (especially in the mobile payments space) that don’t actually deliver anything at all. Rather, they wrap up someone else’s tech / app, and all they do is pass information to it to semi streamline a process. Now I don’t have anything wrong with streamlining processes in this way, after all, I spent 14 years as a TA doing this for corporates. But does that make my own technology massively valuable? No, it really doesn’t….I don’t want to point fingers at all, but if you again, look at the mobile payment space you will see a fair few of these examples.

 

Payments, tech first, solve a problem second

Unfortunately most technology companies at the moment seem to rush to get a technology together, then try to shoe horn it into some business problem or experience that either it doesn’t fit in, or simply doesn’t work for. The mobile payments industry is rife with this, with a multitude of different approaches to payments, all based around technology first, user experience second and practicality for the business and others a distant last.

 

Look at a problem, and then solve it with technology

I must be “old school” when it comes to creating technology. I still like to have a problem to solve, either in terms of a real business need / driver, or an experience we need to get to before I start designing and creating solutions and new technologies. I still maintain that if you want your technology to work it needs to exhibit all of the following 3 points:

  1. Make life easier for you and or your customer
  2. Add value to your current process
  3. Reduce your costs

If your solution doesn’t do all of these potentially for the majority of your customers, then it’s not worth investing in or using.

Shameless plug here, but when you look at mobile payments, Zwallet is the only mobile solution that ticks all three of these points off, and that’s because it’s a technology and solution that looked at real problems, needs, drivers and experiences first.





Zapp mobile payments, great concept or dead idea?

17 01 2014

Zapp has been getting a lot of press coverage these past few days, no doubt to help bolster their fund raising efforts. (Read an article here at Finextra and have a look through the comments made too, very insightful) The company that hopes to deliver mobile payments for UK banks is trying to raise £100m on-top of the £16m funding it has already received to date. But what is Zapp? What will it deliver?

Zapp, great concept or dead end idea?

Zapp, great concept or dead end idea?

We must start with the cold fact that Zapp has not got an actual solution for mobile payments. Zapp has to date delivered nothing in terms or architecture and physical code. With that in mind, everything we read from Zapp is vision based, it’s fluffy and isn’t backed by something tangible like an actual real live working environment. So we must take their comments on what they can deliver with a little pinch of salt, as no one as yet has tried to deliver what they are claiming.

 

The proposition

So let’s now look at the proposition in the wake of Zapp announcing a number of major banks signing up to their solution. When you first read articles or headlines regarding Zapp, you may believe that Zapp has access to your bank account, and that means they can complete payments directly from your bank account for you. The fact is, this is wrong. Zapp does not have direct access to any consumer’s bank account, not ever consumers of those banks that have signed up to the Zapp vision. In addition, Zapp doesn’t have access to faster payments either, again something that many believe they do have. So what do they have that warrants the headlines coming from Zapp….

Well, what they have is an understanding with the signed up banks to be able to send information from their Zapp wallet app to the banks mobile banking app. This information is pretty basic, essentially it’s a reference, an amount and a destination bank account. So in the world of Zapp, you use your Zapp wallet to get a transaction under way, however, in order to actually pay, you are then pushed from your Zapp mobile app into your banks mobile banking application. There you input your PIN for your banks mobile app and then confirm the faster payments transaction that Zapp has set up for you. Complete it in your banks mobile banking app, and then back to the Zapp app you go. It’s also this integration that lets Zapp show you your bank balances in the Zapp app (no direct access to your bank account at all, rather a copy of functionality from Microsoft’s Wallet and Apples Passbook, reading data from other apps).

 

Great concept or dead end idea?

So, is this a winning mobile solution? Should companies like PayPal, Visa, MasterCard, CloudZync be worried. Well the short answer is no. Zapp isn’t offering anything that hasn’t been shown before. Zapp isn’t providing me as a consumer with any incentive to use the app, nor are they providing any incentive to a business to accept Zapp mobile payments. The experience isn’t even one that sounds “cool” for a consumer. Moving between two apps to manually authorise a bank payment is not exactly smooth. But, you can see why the banks they have on board are interested, these are all banks that have no form of P2P transaction apps, nor any foot in the door of the mobile payments industry. Of course they are going to sign up to Zapp, after all the promise is Zapp delivers mobile payments through their own current banking apps. The real proof that Zapp offers nothing new or an experience that consumers will opt for can be seen by looking at Barclays position. Barclays have NOT signed up to Zapp, and you can see why. Why would they, when Zapp is simply a very clunky vision of Barclays own Pingit/buyit app, of which isn’t pie in the sky, is an actual app already out there in the wild with millions of downloads and one that works a lot smoother than the Zapp proposition.

Mobile payments will not take off if we view them as simply an evolution of card payments onto mobile, and this is where Zapp is standing. There is no point for consumers or businesses to invest time and money in an evolution that delivers no improvement for either party. Mobile payments will only succeed when there is incentive and added value to a transaction, and that is why companies like CloudZync and their Zwallet mobile app are light years ahead of the competition. Wrapping other peoples technology to try and make something a little smoother (such as inputting payment information for a faster payments transaction) isn’t visionary and its hardly innovative. When we look at mobile and digital wallets, they need to be innovative, they need to provide real tangible and easily measurable incentives to businesses and consumers to make a conscious effort to use mobile phone as opposed to cards and cash. That’s exactly what Zwallet delivers…

Zapp future

I have no idea what’s ahead for Zapp. I am sure they can deliver the technology to wrap a banks mobile app, it’s hardly rocket science and they aren’t attempting to solve anything that hasn’t been solved already. The question really regarding Zapp is why do they need that size of investment? Do they have anything else planned or is it all marketing, marketing and more marketing money? Who knows.

What I do know is that Zapp is already behind the competition, and has a lot of thinking outside of the box to do if it wants to deliver experiences that get close to its competitors…





Payment Security. Has it been forgotten?

8 11 2013

People may think I’m not being serious with this post title, but I really am. These past few weeks yet more examples of security not being taken seriously in the payments market have emerged. It started with an article I read on Finextra regarding Google bypassing the secure element on an Android phone for NFC based transactions. It’s the launch of HCE (Host Card Emulation).

 

HCE and NFC

I’m not going to go into too many details and technicalities about it, but my own take on the whole situation with HCE, NFC and Google is that Google and the card schemes are changing the rules in which payments are supposed to be made. They are doing this to better fit with their own solutions, and to potentially lock out ventures like ISIS in the US and WEAVE here in the UK and at the risk of security.

There are strict reasons behind PCI compliance and the use of EMV (secured chip and pin to most of us) and it seems that these are now causing issues for Google and others, so instead of looking for real solutions they change the rules. A great take on this can be found on finextra here

 

QR/Barcodes in transactions

These are the choice of many payment solutions out there, including my own companies CloudZync with Zwallet. However, QR and Barcodes are easy to create, especially static ones, so using these for passing payment information has to be taken into consideration, and I would never allow an authorisation of a payment to be made just because a valid code has been scanned. Yet I have witnessed many solutions out there now that do this…

With Zwallet we always make sure the consumer is involved in the authorisation process fully, so we keep intelligence in the process at the cost of 1 second in the transaction process. For me, 1 extra second making a payment is well worth it to aid in security. (I would like to point out that Zwallet transactions are still dramatically quicker than typical card based transactions, even with the added 1 second for security).

 

Security underlying cause for concern?

So what is the underlying cause of security concerns with payments? What really causes so much effort to go into technology a trying to patch security issues or catch fraud post a transaction? The answer is the actual card scheme itself and the infrastructure behind it.

Let’s be real. Cards are amazing. For the last 40 years they have steadily dominated the way in which most of us pay for goods and services. But, has security increased much in that time? A little is the answer. There is a lot more technology backed behind it, but fraud is back on the rise again, so we must ask ourselves why. And the answer is simple, cards were never designed for the digital economy. Everything that we do to utilise the card infrastructure is a cludge, a patch/hack in tech terms. All this technology and security to try and secure something that is very insecure, 16 digits on a card, mixed with two dates and 3 digits on the back.  If we lose control of those details then a fraudster can do whatever they want with our cards, and that’s why so much is invested in fraud detection post a transaction and so much is invested in risk management.

My fear is, while card based transactions using Chip and Pin remain ok, the way we use cards digitally isn’t so secure. Throw into the mix mobile payments and companies actively trying to utilise card details in their solutions to make payments, and holes start to appear. In essence, trying to use technology to secure something that by its nature is not secure causes all sorts of issues. And though great lengths to make things much more secure are possible, the costs behind these rack up.

No matter how you try to secure card details, or to what lengths you go, the fact remains that the infrastructure for cards requires those simple card details, and fraudsters are becoming increasingly intelligent, innovative and capable of getting their hands on those details and using them.

 

The security solution

The only real secure option is to start with a blank sheet of paper for payments and wake up and realise that the digital economy requires payments to be carried out on an infrastructure that is designed for digital transactions from the ground up. It also MUST include more human elements in the process and not just require everything to be automated.

Real intelligence still remains with the consumer and the business. By removing them from the process more and more, we may make the payment process a little quicker, but we increasingly make it less secure. After all, the process of me having to know my PIN to make a payment is far more secure if I have lost my card, compared to just waving my card in front of a reader and making a payment.

These are the reasons behind the security approaches we have at CloudZync, the reasons why we make sure the consumer has to actively be involved in the purchase process and actively have to authorise each and every payment. If we remove them too much, then there are more gaps for fraudsters to exploit.

I’m not saying everything can be 100% secure, it simply can’t, and intelligent innovative fraudsters will always find a way to exploit processes and technology, but we must actively make it as hard as possible, and currently, in the race to stamp authority on possibly the payments method of the future, security seems to be being overlooked…That is a great concern of mine, and should be a great concern for each and every consumer out there and business owner…





Mag-strip to EMV chip and pin

23 08 2013

I’ve seen few articles on countries now looking to finally move away from mag-strip debit and credit cards, ditching signatures and opting for EMV chip and pin cards. This is the most recent I’ve read, “Bank of Israel sets deadline for EMV switch”. But what makes me chuckle a little is that EMV is really old hat now, so to start moving to EMV in the next 3 years seems a little out dated already.

In a recent article on Finextra, Bank of Israel sets a deadline for moving from mag-strip to EMV, banks and card schemes have been given 3 and half years to make that switch. In that time, surely many more of us smart phone users will be looking to mobile transactions, so the move seems just like the move from CD to MiniDisc – one with a very short lifespan and rather large investment…(Keep in mind the numbers of smart phone users as opposed to dumb phone users is increasing daily)

 

Card schemes are big

Yes, most of us have a card and therefore card schemes will be with us for a very, very long time. But moving forward, the role cards play in our lives will only get smaller and smaller. With this in mind, is it worth making the investments to move to EMV? Why not now at this late stage stick with what you have and await a mobile revolution?

 

Go mobile

If I were the head of a large bank in this situation I obviously would be looking at migrating to EMV because I am being forced to. If I wasn’t being forced to, I think I would be tempted to leave things as they are. After all the switch will not be cheap, it will also involve lots of customer relations with businesses and no doubt (just like in the UK) waves of consumers complaining about using a PIN (though we seem to love Chip and Pin now).

But my main focus I believe would be looking at pure mobile schemes, looking at what’s out there and how my customers will want to access and spend funds via their mobile devices. (Obviously I would be looking at CloudZync’s infrastructure and technology 😉 but maybe I am very biased on this)…

 

CD to mini-disc to MP3

Currently updating a card scheme, be it to EMV or containing LCD displays in a card, or pairing cards to Bluetooth apps on phones seems, well, very pointless. Many of us believe the physical card will play a smaller role in our future lives, so why keep investing in it? After all, would you as an IT company keep developing and spending money on solutions that had a shelf life of only a few years? Or would you be looking at a longer game plan?

Maybe I’m being harsh on “mini-disc” here, at least Sony were not that aware of the pending doom just a few years down the line with MP3 players (especially the iPod). They were taken by surprise the uptake and demand in MP3 and as such, mini-disc (though a great invention) died a quick death. Here with cards, it seems we have already foreseen their death, and yet we simply ignore it and plough on forward….curious….





Windows 8 for business and for home

10 04 2013

I know most organisations are either stuck on Windows XP or migrated a short while back to Windows 7. Typically (or should I say historically) organisations seem to embrace every other version of Windows, which puts them on a 4-5 year upgrade cycle. So any ideas that businesses are shunning Windows 8 because of it new tile start screen isn’t quite accurate.

What is true is the fact that no matter what Windows 8 was, businesses wouldn’t look to update until Windows 9 was released, and most of us thought that would be approximately 2 years after the release of 8, so September / October 2014. However, with Microsoft’s recent announcements of Blue being available at the end of the year, it seems that Microsoft is now looking for annual releases of its OS, and since that OS is now essentially across all devices, that includes mobile, tablet, laptop and good old desktops. So this new release cycle from Microsoft will no doubt have an impact on how businesses look to their upgrades.

 

Give it a short amount of time and you come to love the start screen in your business

Give it a short amount of time and you come to love the start screen in your business

 

Windows 8 now

My own company, CloudZync, is using Windows 8 for the majority of users (though I will be honest, some are on Windows 7 still) and I must say, having both operating systems in the organisation hasn’t caused a single issue. But, I have noticed that when I move back to Windows 7 I’m starting to get a little frustrated. It seems the start screen has become something of a blessing, even though I spend I would say 85%+ of my time on the desktop side of the OS. I really wouldn’t listen to those who say the OS its jarring and moving between “Metro” and “desktop” is confusing, because it simply isn’t. Sure there are some things you need to learn but they are so easy, like just put your pointer in a corner of the screen, that pretty much sums up what you need to know as the rest is very intuitive (well I think – especially when compared to other operating systems out there). Sure there are some things that frustrate me with Windows 8, but that’s true of every single OS and piece of software I think I have ever used.

I’m glad we have Windows 8 now in the organisation as with Microsoft’s new OS releases being mainly “upgrades” I think moving between Windows 8 and newer releases will be quite a seamless and painless experience.  I expect Blue to be more about upgrades to Windows 8, addressing some of those user frustrations and bringing even more seamless experiences between the OS and the cloud.

 

Intuitive

I do find I get very frustrated with peoples take on what intuitive is. I’m sorry, but something isn’t un-intuitive because it doesn’t work like something else you are used to. That means it’s just different. Intuitive for me means I should be able to logically understand where something maybe. When moving to iOS I have to say I found it very un-intuitive, yet most people say it’s an easy to use OS, which it is, once you know all the little oddities of it. That doesn’t make it a highly intuitive OS. If I handed iOS to my Dad for example he would hate it, and moan like hell about it. (He recently looked at the iPhone, Samsung Galaxy and Nokia Lumia devices, he went with the Lumia as he said that one made sense to him how to use it, the others would require him to learn the UI). Likewise, things on Windows 8 are different to 7, and many of us at first think “wow 8 is so un-intuitive” because it’s different to what we have learnt. But if you come at with no expectations, and don’t think it should be the same as something else, you soon find that actually, it’s a very intuitive OS. Sure there are some odd things that aren’t intuitive, but just like iOS, once you know them they seem brilliant and then obvious.

 

Windows 8 in your organisation

There are some real nice features when you start moving all devices to Microsoft’s latest OS. I have a Windows 8 phone, Windows 8 PC, Windows 8 netbook (which since I have had access to an RT hasn’t been used) and a Microsoft Surface RT. When switching between devices it’s amazing how much is synchronised and how easy it is to be working on one, then switch to the other. I would say improvements could be made for sure, but as a work environment, it really is second to none.

Yes I am aware of how improved Apple is in this department, but I too have an iPhone for testing our software on and our CEO uses his iPad consistently. What I’ve noticed is though anything that is a bit more work focussed or requires greater attention, he has to switch back to the desktop PC, while I’m equally happy on any of the Windows 8 devices (granted I don’t like editing office files on my phone but it’s not that bad).

Moving forward, Windows 8+ is a no brainer for me. Tablets that double up as real desktop, desktop and tablets seamlessly acting together and don’t forget a wide selection of Windows 8 phones that bring it all together on your mobile. For an organisation, it makes almost no sense to splash cash on anything other than Windows devices, all you do is add in another level of complexity that simply doesn’t need to be there, and worse, you have to spend much more money.

Think of this example, my sister in law is a sales rep. She has an iPad which she uses to show prospective clients items they can stock, great, it’s a nice experience. However, if the client wants to purchase or look at anything in real detail, then she has to get out her laptop and boot that up and use bespoke software on there to complete her sale. She is essentially carrying around 2 devices, one of which is being used as a glorified catalogue, something that just presents well. Now if her organisation had purchased a Windows 8 tablet then that’s all she would need to carry. She can replace the iPad delivering the same experience and then still have all the power of her legacy apps available on the tablet. It would have saved her company a tidy sum…

 

Organisation Upgrades

No matter your take on Windows 8, there is no doubt in my mind that come October 2014 we will start seeing mass migration of organisations away from Windows XP and 7 in favour of 8, Blue or whatever it will be called by then. What will be hard is how the media (especially tech bloggers) look at this, will they then say Windows 8 was a disaster like Vista but Windows 9 is amazing? Or will they finally grasp that their rather 90’s view of desktop computing is dead and that the desktop is very much on the same cycle as mobile operating systems and their wireless upgrades?





Grasping the tech giants business models

20 07 2012

It’s rare that I bother to post about business models, economics or company balance sheets, and that’s simply because I don’t find them half as interesting as what’s going on with technology or methodologies. However, for the past 12 years these sorts of things have taken up almost 50% of my working time, and can be interesting from time to time, especially when you look at the tech giants, Apple, Microsoft and Google…

In an earlier post I blogged about the worrying trend for “free” services from the web, and how that business models that were built purely on advertising can be fraught with danger, and essentially only work well for the very few (for Google it works massively well).  However, today I want to look at Apple, Microsoft and Google in terms of their business models, how they differ, where they are similar and their financials to understand the companies better and to understand where we could be heading…

 

Business model

Each one of the big three has their own unique business models when you look at them in broader terms. Apples business is about delivering premium luxury devices mainly, running them with its own software and being tied into its own ecosystem (pretty much exclusively). Apple doesn’t really provide any software services, or software that we buy and run on any old device, rather everything is focused on its own platforms and own devices. One of the big benefits here is if your brand is strong (and Apples is very strong at the moment) then you can command premium rates and rake in larger profits because you control everything, the software, the hardware, the ecosystem even to an extent the distribution channels. This model is a massive earner potentially, but relies purely on your brand being un-equalled in the eyes of the consumer.

Microsoft on the other hand is purely software and software services (well almost purely). Microsoft delivers is software to consumers and businesses alike, it charges licenses for these and subscription fees for its services. Anyone can purchase Microsoft software and services, and most of them will run on any platform, including Apples MAC and iOS. This business model relies on your software and services delivering to the customer’s requirements, but does open up the enterprise as well as the consumer. It also allows Microsoft to enter so many different software market areas, and there pretty much isn’t an area where Microsoft isn’t present. Though each individual sale is nowhere near as profitable as an Apple sale (as Apple sells the hardware too) it is none the less highly profitable and due to its diversitiy, allows Microsoft to support other areas of its business with ones that are doing well. These types of services, aren’t quite brand dependent, rather are feature and function dependent.

Then we come to Google, Google is all about marketing, selling you a marketing services via its search. Everything else Google does is related to gaining more information to increase the value of those marketing services that it sells to SMEs and large corporations. This is again a very profitable business model, but depends 100% on people using your search services, in order to show value for your marketing services. If Google’s search is seen to be not as good as a competitor, or looses market share, then the value of its marketing business also drops away – which puts pressures on every other aspect of the business.

So do we see any cross over? Well the companies do share common grounds, and that is in the entertainment and content consumption area. At the moment, Apple is a little more mature here than the others, but essentially both Microsoft and Google are playing catch up in delivering content through their ecosystems down to their customers. Microsoft has marketplace (which is still branded Zune in some areas), Google has Play and we all know Apple as iTunes.

In addition, both Google and Microsoft appear to be now dabbling in the hardware arena a lot more too. You could argue Microsoft has always dabbled, especially when the company produced the modern mouse as we know it, keyboards etc in the early days. They also deliver the XBOX and now, perhaps, Surface tablets too. So is Microsoft trying to increase its revenues by controlling hardware too? Probably not, though XBOX is now a profitable business for them, this exercise is about showing Microsoft products can be related to high end devices. Google though has got into this more seriously, delivering their own tablets and purchasing Motorola. I personally think this is more about ensuring its OS is running on devices that tie back to its search than about actually competing in the hardware arena or with Microsoft directly for OEMs love…

 

Experiences and current position

The Apple business model relies on belief that their brand delivers a better experience. This is the situation currently for the masses; hence they are the biggest player here in many ways in mobile and tablet. However, this wasn’t always the case. The Apple experience was poor back in the 90’s, I’m sorry it really was, not matter what anyone says. I remember using them at Uni and I will be honest, the UNIX machines delivered an experience I, and pretty much everyone else, agreed with was better than the Apple. Don’t be fooled that people flocked to MS just because, we all used Windows 3.11, 95, 98 etc because it was a far superior end user and business user experience (even with the blue screen of death).  You could also do so much more with the Windows based PCs, networking, support more peripheral devices etc etc.

Apple didn’t die though; instead it reinvented itself with a great experience on a tiny device, the iPod. That experience was and still is, far better than its competition, and it was that experience that led to us consumers looking at just what else Apple delivered. Apple really seized the day here, and improved everything they do 100%. Their devices always looked funky, but now they looked really top of the range, sleek, fast and designer. Throw in their improved operating systems (and a change at the core) and things started to look up. The iPhone moved this on from the iPod, and in many ways Apple defined what we see as a smart phone today (though they weren’t the first, even Nokia had prototype devices that looked like and behaved like the iPhone, they just were stuck on Symbian and never got them to market – shows poor forethought that). The iPhone experience was second to none (even though it lacked in features at first), and that experience is what drove customers to Apple. At the same time, people were getting fed up with the blue screen of death, and the viruses that now plagued Windows machines (and you can’t blame them). In many ways the Apple experience was now superior to that of Microsoft’s. With that experience and belief in place, the Apple business model really did and does flourish…

But are things starting to change again? Well maybe not just yet, but there is a real perception that they could, with many pundits and market watchers believing that Windows 8 across all devices could start to show a better experience to that of Apples on all those devices. Who knows, if that does happen then the pendulum will no doubt swing back to Microsoft away from Apple. The difference between the two companies though is their ability to thrive through poor consumer sales or customer perception…

Microsoft’s brand with Vista hit a real low. Yet the company still managed to rake in big profits, and that’s because of the numerous other businesses Microsoft runs. Microsoft has a highly successful business and server division, and that income keeps them strong even at a time of Vista. Essentially Microsoft can weather storms better than anyone, due to their business model and the diversity of their software and services. If indeed the masses of consumers start opting for devices running Windows 8 over Apples own devices, then Apple will be hit far harder than anything Apple has done to Microsoft in the past 10 years. It’s interesting that both Bill Gates and Steve Jobs see/saw Apple as a premium product and the masses opting for Windows devices, if this again becomes the case in mobile and tablet, then the quarterly incomes that we see posting from Apple will be slashed, none the less they will still operate at a very handy profit on every device they sell (something Google must learn at some point you would think).

 

Financials

By far and away Apple rules here. Though Q2 figures aren’t out for 2012, Q1 figures for Apple have the company posting record revenues of $46b, these up from $26b in the same quarter a year ago. That shows that Apple is moving from strength to strength and quickly. 58% of those revenues come directly from device sales, keep that in mind, such as iPhones, iPods, iPads and Macs. Almost all devices Apple produce have defined the market and command massive market share, with the exception of the Mac, which in desktop market share is a tiny player.  What’s interesting is that Apple doesn’t have any areas where the company loses money, and that’s why it’s such a strong company.

In second place we have Microsoft with its own record $18b for Q2 2012. Though the company had to write off a $6b investment in an advertising company (which meant Microsoft’s first ever loss), the company looks to make around the $6b each quarter, almost none of which comes from device sales. Microsoft is sitting on assets of excess of $121b up from $108b just 12 months ago so it’s a rich company that is growing in every area – though some are running at a loss. Microsoft makes money from a number of software and services divisions, but these also end up supporting many other software and service divisions that run at a loss. Bing for example has never managed to get close to profit, yet Microsoft plug away at it, and even Bing is heading in the right direction. Microsoft does play a very long game with these divisions, and it has the cash reserves and the income to be able to do that…

Finally we have Google, who also posted record quarter revenue, this time of around $12b. Interestingly enough Google makes no money from so many ventures, but its core business model allows them to still operate at a nice profit and command such sales. Almost everything Google makes comes from marketing…

 

Long term projects

Microsoft has always led the way in R&D investment, and it seems to be ramping this up. Many could argue the company has been stagnant for many years, which could be true. However, Apples re-emergence has meant Microsoft needs to up its game if it wishes to remain a big player in the home, and that’s exactly what they appear to be doing. Microsoft plays a very long game, and is prepared to give its businesses a very long time to move into profit, think XBOX and the entertainment divisions which now operate at very healthy profits, that wasn’t always the case. Bing may be losing Microsoft money each quarter, but it is losing less money than it was each quarter. The whole thing here is that Microsoft is involved in so many different areas which many of which aren’t profitable…Yet…

Apple on the other hand has been very fortunate. Not only were they fortunate to survive (with some cash from Microsoft there too) they stumbled along for many years offering not much innovation and poor experiences. However, that all has changed dramatically. Since the iPod and the additional revenues that brought in, Apple has invested and innovated, carving out not 1 but 3 market places for itself to dominate.

Google has always been the golden company of search, however mobile is a real challenge for them, delivering their marketing services down to devices. Here Google search isn’t as strong as it is on the desktop or as effective at delivering adds, so Google has to have a strong mobile presence with Motorola and Android to safeguard its core business.

 

Conclusion

All the tech companies are growing, and that’s due to us consumers demanding more from the internet and from our devices and software. The mobile and tablet marketplace is quite new, and it’s where the tech companies need to do battle, and will do for the coming years.

Mobile for Apple is the linchpin of their business, the iPhone and the iPad command massive market share and is charged at a premium. Any dent into the perception of the user experience or brand itself will hurt the company massively since it depends so much on device sales.  Likewise new competitors in this market place who gain market share from Apple will have a big impact on Apples financials (though Apple is simple so strong at the moment it’s hard to see).

For Microsoft, it must grab more market share in mobile and tablets to ensure it remains relevant in the consumer marketplace. Though Microsoft is strong in so many business areas, such as business and server, it is aware that for the consumer marketplace, it needs to get a good hold in mobile and tablet, hence the big push with Windows 8.

Finally, Google needs to retain a large market share in mobile to ensure it grabs enough user data and can deliver its own core marketing services to users. If it cannot do that well for mobile, then Googles business model becomes very fragile indeed.

I personally think that the next few years will be interesting. I’m excited by Windows 8 and the one OS for all devices – to me it makes sense and as a consumer that one experience across everything, that seamless usage between all those devices while not compromising on the things I want to do with them makes a compelling case and delivery of a better experience. If Microsoft gets it right, and its marketplace store continues to grow and deliver the content we as consumers want, then Microsoft will no doubt be delivering a superior experience and will start to grab market share in mobile and tablet. This will lead to more record quarters from MS I’m sure, and that will in turn lead to far more R&D and new divisions it starts that run at a loss for a long period of time too, until they too make a profit.

Apple has, and will always have, a strong loyal brand following, so though I don’t see Apple holding onto its massive market share in mobile and tablet, its future remains very bright. Apple will command a premium and will have customers flocking for its products. The company makes very good profits on all its devices and most of its businesses, so the company seems set for many years to come.

My concern is for Google if I am honest. Though the company is growing, the mobile war is far more important to them than anyone else. If Android loses market share, then the number of people relying on Google services for search will drop (especially as more of us use our mobiles).  This means their core business revenues will take a knock. The Motorola deal for Google is so important, if Google can make money from actual devices, while gaining greater data and ensuring its browser and search services are delivered to devices, it can retain its core revenue. The problem is, their business model relies on Android success, and if companies like Samsung start selling more Windows Phone devices, then Google almost becomes dependent on Motorola’s success. If that is the case, has Google got time enough to try and build that brand to compete with the likes of Samsung, and more importantly Apple?





Will Mobile kill free services?

31 05 2012

Sorry to be blogging about Mobile again, but at the moment it’s my main focus of work….In this post I want to have a quick look at the problem mobile presents to companies that live, and potentially die based on advertising revenues.

 

The advertising model

The biggest player in building their business solely on advertising revenue is without doubt Google. Almost everything it does is based around gaining more information on us users, so that it can effectively deliver adverts back to us in a better fashion, so we are more likely to click on them, and Google gets paid. The more clicks, the more Google earns and can even charge. It’s this model that allows Google to deliver pretty much all of their services, and software (Android springs to mind) for free, all funded by charging for adverts. Don’t kid yourself that Google delivers services for free because it’s a loving, don’t be evil company. Most of the things Google deliver for free are there to help Google gain more data so they can advertise more effectively. Mobile is a great example, and one of the reasons Google purchased Android, so they had a mobile presence to locate us and advertise based on geographic locations.

Google isn’t the only company that lives by charging for adverts, there are many businesses out there, small and large, especially online, that make their money mainly from delivering adverts. How many times do you go to a website and there are adverts delivered on it? How many times do you read a blog with adverts delivered on it? Quite a few. Even Facebook only makes money because it charges for adverts that are delivered on the website to us users.

So what happens to companies if they cannot effectively deliver adverts any longer?

 

The Mobile Problem

Currently Facebook is becoming rudely aware of this problem, so much so that its newly floated stock is now trading almost $10 down on its launch. Why? Well it’s all to do with the company’s ability to monetize and take advantage of its 900m user base. You see, on Facebook the website (used from a desktop) we have adverts constantly being shown to us. These are tailored ads, based on what I like, what I talk about, my own personal status, and as such Facebook can charge for these. However, if I use Facebook on my mobile phone, these ads simply aren’t there. The concern is then, with so many more of us using our mobile phones as our primary device to access the web that companies won’t want to pay for adverts if no one is able to see them. This basically means Facebook can no longer deliver ads effectively.

This problem isn’t limited to Facebook. Think of those free apps we have all downloaded that have ads being displayed. They are free because the ads are paying for them. But how much space do those ads take up, and typically you can only see one single advert. The problem is that ads jar the mobile user experience, they don’t fit in well and the user finds themselves scrolling to see the actual content they use the app for. I for one have un-installed 5 or 6 apps now where I simply got annoyed with the adverts.

Don’t think though Google is exempt here. Using search on your mobile is fine, and Google still can display its sponsored links there, however, a chunk of Google’s revenue is displaying ads on other peoples websites, blogs etc. As more of us turn to mobile to access the web, these adverts start to disappear, and therefore so does Google’s revenues from these ads. The next mobile problem is that many of us prefer Apps over a browser experience on our mobile phones. This means we start to not even search using websites like Google.com, rather we use an app. I for one use the Bing app, the user experience is far better than visiting the mobile website version, and it integrates with other tools and functions, such as QR code scanning, voice and local scout (which delivers search results local to me and includes such things as local restaurants, points of interest etc.) This means the only adverts I have any chance of seeing are those sponsored links that come back in a handful of searches.

With all this in mind, can the likes of Google even see revenues falling as it too struggles to deliver ads down to mobile devices? Sure, Google has a big enough market share of search to survive, but can it charge enough to then keep subsidising so many of its ongoing projects, and even worse, the number of failed projects that have cost millions which are raking up?

 

End of free services?

We have got used to so many free services online, Search, Social Networks, watching videos etc. All these things cost money, and currently so many of them are funded purely by the ability to deliver adverts to us online. Mobile really does threaten that model, if you can’t successfully deliver a number of ads down to user’s mobile device, then why will a business advertise with you? If revenues start to fall, then how long is it possible for companies to make losses on all these free services? Google subsidises everything it does based on adverts, but if those revenues can no longer support everything Google does, will we start seeing services getting switched off, or having to pay for them? No doubt Google search will survive, but the question is can Google afford to deliver everything else it does for free?

For the likes of Facebook, the mobile threat is even greater; it really does present a problem. Keep in mind that if this is true of Facebook, a company with some 900m active users, then it will be for any business that is built on advertisement revenues. Mobile really could be the death of free services online, unless companies can figure out a new way to deliver adverts back down to our mobile devices. That’s tough, especially since ads ruin the user experience currently. At the moment, mobile could be the grim reaper for so many free services.

…We shall see….