Saw this coming – Google buying Softcard

According to multiple reports, Google is in talks to buy Softcard (formerly Isis). This is a very interesting development in the mobile payments space.

Isis was formed as a consortium in direct response to Google Wallet and its “tap to pay” functionality. AT&T, Verizon, and T-Mobile formed this consortium to set up their own mobile payments system. The key to the system was the “Secure Element” located in the SIM card. Google wanted to access the secure element as part of the payment process. But since the big three wanted to see Softcard succeed, Google was forced to reduce its Wallet app to a loyalty card holder.

With the advent of Apple Pay, it looks like Softcard has a lot of intellectual property related to mobile payments but can’t make it work. While Apple Pay signed up many banks and credit card processors, Softcard only had three – Chase, Wells Fargo, and American Express. This left a lot of people out in the cold who could have used a mobile wallet to make payments.

Apple Pay is only available now on the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus while Softcard is available on many Android phones. If Google can make this deal work (valued at $100 million), Google would gain the intellectual property. If the three wireless providers will allow Google to implement the Softcard functionality in the Google Wallet app, then we will see a real competitor to Apple Pay.

I’m not holding my breath as to when Google Wallet will have tap to pay on more smart phones. But I’m sure Softcard wants to sell and get something for its assets. The purchase is a no-brainer for Google and it will be a matter of time before we see Softcard functionality in some new or existing app.

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Two more may go

It looks like two more teen retailers are in trouble because they can’t keep up with the likes of Forever 21 and H&M. Wet Seal may file for bankruptcy soon even after shutting 41 stores as previously announced.

Abercrombie & Fitch is also in trouble. We’ll have two see how these two retailers fare in January

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Market-Ticker for Sale?

It looks like Karl Denninger is going to sell his blog and associated domains.

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Black Friday and Retail Dead Pool

Let’s face it – Black Friday was not the savior this year that was hoped by a lot of retailers. Some reports put the real drop at 11% compared to last year. Shoppers will realize that the better deals will come in the next few weeks. The deals will go right up to the 23rd and 24th. Here are my observations:

  • Sears and K-Mart are done in 2015. K-mart did very little advertising while Sears did a lot more leading up to Black Friday. We may see another push starting a week before Christmas but I don’t believe it.
  • JCPenney has been quiet on the advertising. Are they finally done?
  • RadioShack had advertised some but they are knocking off a lot of items at 50% or more. RadioShack may end up doing an orderly shutdown of its stores and fade from the retail scene mid-2015.
  • Best Buy has improved their stores and targeted their advertising. I think Best Buy is getting stronger and would see and incremental increase in business from a RadioShack shutdown.

Keep an eye out for announcements in January of 2015. We should know more once the Christmas shopping season is done.

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KitKat 4.4.4 on Verizon Galaxy Note 3

I’ve had a few days to play with 4.4.4 on the Note 3 and here are my observations.

  • Battery life has improved. I don’t have to recharge as much as I used to. While the battery is new, I did notice a difference in 4.4.4 from 4.2.2.
  • Apps seem to work faster. Facebook and Twitter are two examples. The pages scroll by very fast
  • Updated Firefox browser looks great on 4.4.4.
  • Bluetooth does not consume a lot of power now compared to previous releases.

Here are some of the things I was expecting but did not see:

  • Updated TouchWiz so I could scroll the apps like the Galaxy Note 4. I hope it comes in 5.0.
  • Updated Google Wallet to use NFC without the “Secure Element” part of the SIM. I was hoping to use “tap to pay” in Google Wallet but it didn’t happen.

According to different reports, the Galaxy Note 3 will receive Lollipop sometime in early 2015. KitKat 4.4.4 takes care of some bugs and much needed fixes.

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Galaxy Note 3 and KitKat 4.4.4

The new software version 4.4.4 is now available for the Verizon Galaxy Note 3. I’ll post a review later.

It’s an early Christmas present from Verizon.

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Retail Predictions for 2015

As part of the Retail Dead Pool, here are my predictions for 2015:

  1. Look for the stores opening early on Thanksgiving. Opening on Thanksgiving can be a bad omen.
  2. Sears and Kmart will continue their slide into oblivion. When will hedge funds realize that sending good money after bad always results in destruction?
  3. JCPenney will shutter more stores
  4. Kohl’s will shut some stores but will continue struggling against Target and Wal-Mart
  5. Target and Wal-Mart may realign some stores to stop red ink
  6. Best Buy looks like it has turned around, but let’s see what happens in an economic downturn
  7. RadioShack will close more stores or go completely out of business. It all depends on the cell phone market and pre-paid options like Straight Talk. If Wal-Mart can get a larger share of the cell phone market, RadioShack is finished.


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Has it been 25 years since the Berlin Wall came down?

Today is Sunday, November 9, 2014. 25 years ago on this day, Communism began its fall when East Germany allowed its citizens to cross into West Germany without visas. Once this happened, people from East Germany poured over the Berlin Wall. East and West Germany reunified in late 1990. A lot has changed in Berlin since that time.

A lot has changed in the world since that time. Here are some examples:

  • The Cold War is now the War on Terror
  • The US has been fighting Iraq almost continuously since 1990
  • The World Wide Web now connects the world
  • The US elected its first Black President
  • The US House impeached a President for the first and only time in the 20th century
  • The world is much more connected via satellite and other means

2016 also marks 25 years since the end of the Soviet Union. While the pendulum has swung towards freedom for Russia, it is starting to swing back under Putin. While we don’t know what the future brings, 2025 might be a pivotal year for us since 1945.

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The Last Business Day of the Year

In my varied experience, I have noticed that the holiday season is the worst time to start or work on a project. In the US, the holiday season starts on Thanksgiving Day and ends on New Year’s Day. There is a day when you should have your projects done except for those where you or your team have direct control.

This magic day is the Friday before Thanksgiving Day. While business continues, I call this magic day the Last Business Day of the Year. Why is this day magical? In many businesses, Thanksgiving and the day after Thanksgiving (Black Friday) are paid holidays. This means that Thanksgiving Week is only three days long and people start taking vacations. My experience has shown when a project is being worked during the holiday season, something comes up and requires a certain individual’s assistance. This someone could be in purchasing, accounting, administration, or engineering, and the required person is out on vacation. While it is worse during the week of Thanksgiving and the two weeks surrounding Christmas and New Year’s, the weeks in December are times people will take off from work.

My thought on this idea is that one should complete their projects as much as possible before the magic day. If that is not possible, have tasks requiring outside assistance get completed or deferred by the magic day and complete the tasks that are under your control or your team’s control.

While every business is different, this magic day applies to retail in a much different way. In the case of retail operations, everything pertaining to the Christmas shopping season should be completed before the magic day. While some businesses are slowing down during the season, retail is another story.

Next time you are scheduling tasks for a project, make sure to keep locus of control and the Last Business Day of the Year in mind for scheduling purposes. You could get a lot of things done and make your December one to remember.

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Apple Pay and retailers react

The recent introduction of Apple Pay did not come without controversy. A few days after the introduction, two retailers turned off the NFC features of their payment terminals. Business Insider has an article detailing the reasons why CVS and Rite-Aid shut off NFC access.

It has to do with a consortium of several retailers and their development of a QR-based payment system. Unfortunately, it all boils down to money and the big reason for the shutdown was the use of Apple Pay and payment of fees to card issues such as MasterCard and Visa.

Could this action cause customer defections to rivals? It depends on how vocal Apple Pay users get and how fast other retailers adopt Apple Pay as a payment option. It also depends on how many individuals use NFC-based phone payments at retailers. If people are still using the swipe card because that is the most convenient option, then the actions of CVS and Rite-Aid won’t make a difference. But if Apple Pay, Google Wallet, and Softcard catch on, then CVS and Rite-Aid will have to reverse their actions.

Only time will tell.

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