MediaFile

The digital wallet soon to be in every pocket

Will the smartphone do for retailing what it did for photography?

Like a recession, we never quite see a tipping point when it happens. Tech seems to alter behavior in unpredictable ways. But, in fact, tech makes it possible to form the habits we unknowingly crave. We love TV, but we’re walking away from the TV set. We still make calls at home, but have abandoned land lines. You used to carry a point-and-shoot camera, and you still do — but now it’s in your smartphone.

Google’s full-throttled entry into the mobile payments space last week removed any doubt that this is the make-or-break year for the digital wallet. Google is backing a technology called Near Field Communication (NFC), which will require a new chip in smartphones. This tech has been around for a while, deployed in payment dongles and proximity credit cards, but there now seems to be critical mass for handset makers to include it in the next generation of phones. Google’s Android mobile phone software powers about 1/3 of the world’s smartphones, and it’s growing fast. Another quarter comes form Apple, which has been mum on NFC but is expected to get on board. (Apple controls both the hardware and software for the iPhone.)

The reason the credit card hasn’t changed one bit since Diner’s Club invented it 60 years ago (from the consumer’s perspective) is because it hasn’t had to. It does exactly what we want, with minimal friction.

But there is room for improvement. We are prodded to carry many cards, not only to pay on credit but to take advantage of those omnipresent loyalty programs that reward us on a store-by-store basis, cluttering our wallets. Plastic is inherently insecure, because it carries all the information hackers need to clone it.

And, most of all, the card itself had become nothing more than a delivery system for e-data — only people of a certain age, or customers of some quaint car services, know that the raised numbers on a charge “plate” are there to make an indentation on triplicate, carbon-copy credit slips using a mechanical machine with a roller.

D9 kicks off in style…LA style

If you can say one thing about those folks at AllThingsD, it’s that they really know how to throw a party. This year’s premier U.S. tech conference, at the swanky Terranea Resort in upscale Rancho Palos Verdes just an hour south of LA, brought out the Ferraris, CEOs and fancy gizmos in droves.

Such an event deserves a worthy schwag bag, and the folks at AllThingsD did not disappoint. This year’s trove of goodies for the 600 monied attendees included a brand-new HP Veer smartphone,   a “Pogoplug” personal cloud box (for backing up content and stuff), a Disney skull-shaped decanter meant to commemorate the release of the fourth Pirates of the Caribbean, a Lenovo wireless keyboard-and-mouse.

Last but not least — a “very special” D9-logo-emblazoned hoodie meant as a tribute to D8′s now-classic onstage interview with Mark Zuckerberg, during which Kara Swisher managed to get the clearly-perspiring Facebook chieftain to doff said item.

Tech wrap: Steve Jobs is back, maybe

Apple’s Chief Executive Steve Jobs, who spent months on medical leave, will open an annual developers’ conference on June 6 showcasing the iPad maker’s latest computer software and a new cloud computing service. But it’s unclear if he’s returning from medical leave or simply kicking off the conference.

Jobs and his team plan to unveil a new cloud-based service called iCloud, which will offer remote computing and data over the Internet, and a slew of software upgrades at the conference including Lion, its Mac OS X computer operating system, and iOS 5, the next version of its mobile operating system.

Nokia abandoned hope of meeting key targets just weeks after setting them, raising questions over whether its new boss can deliver on the turnaround he promised in February.  The news sent its shares tumbling 18 percent to their lowest in 13 years, wiping some $5.5 billion off its market value. Investors are worried the company, once the leading force in its industry, is losing so much market share it may never regain its footing.

Tech wrap: EBay sues Google in mobile payment war

EBay and its online payment unit, PayPal, sued Google and two executives for stealing trade secrets related to mobile payment systems, highlighting the growing battle between companies vying for a major stake in what has been described as a $1 trillion opportunity. The two executives, Osama Bedier and Stephanie Tilenius, were formerly with PayPal and led the launch on Thursday of Google’s own mobile payment system in partnership with MasterCard, Citigroup and Sprint.

The personal information of more than 283,000 customers at Honda Canada was breached, the company confirmed on Friday. The company said the stolen data included names, addresses, vehicle identification numbers and in some cases financing account numbers, but was not the type that would typically be used for identity theft or fraud.

Sony said it will start restoring its PlayStation videogame network in Japan and elsewhere in Asia on Saturday, more than a month after a massive security breach leaked personal details on tens of millions of accounts. Sony also said it plans to testify before U.S. lawmakers at a hearing on data security in Washington on June 2 to address the breech.

Tech wrap: Microsoft backs Ballmer

Microsoft’s board stood behind CEO Steve Ballmer, defending its longtime leader after influential hedge fund manager David Einhorn touched off a debate by calling for his dismissal. The fund manager, who made his name warning about the financial health of Lehman Brothers before the investment bank’s collapse, accused Ballmer on Wednesday evening of being stuck in the past, launching the sharpest attack yet by a high-profile investor against the company’s leadership.

Google and four bank and telecom partners unveiled “Google Wallet” and “Google Offers”, taking U.S. shoppers a step closer to paying by waving their mobile phones at the checkout counter. Designed to work as an app on Android phones, it hitches a ride on MasterCard’s “PayPass” technology, which lets shoppers tap cards for payment. Google has signed up retailers including Macy’s, American Eagle Outfitters and Subway to blend the service with loyalty programs and discount offers.

Google, MasterCard, Citigroup, First Data and Sprint will make the service available this summer to people in New York and San Francisco.

Tech wrap: Twitter swallows TweetDeck

Twitter confirmed that it has bought TweetDeck, a popular third-party software application that organizes tweets, the short messages delivered through the online social network. Terms were not disclosed but a source told Reuters earlier this month that a deal for up to $50 million was imminent.

Twitter will seek to notify its users so they can defend themselves before it hands over user information to the authorities, a senior manager said when asked about a privacy dispute in Britain. Users have posted details on Twitter of celebrity scandals, in contravention of so-called super injunctions and could face an unlimited fine and up to two years in prison.

“Platforms should have responsibility not to defend the user, but to protect that user’s right to defend him or herself,” said Tony Wang, general manager of Twitter’s European operations.

A cloudy forecast for digital music

Just in time for data caps, your music is going into the cloud.

It’s been a long, strange trip for the mp3 player. Born into relative obscurity, it only became a first class digital citizen when Apple got into the game with the iPod — the first portable music player with an unforgettable name.

From the introduction of this breakthrough device in 1998 as a clunky handheld hard disk, to its reinvention as a sleek, video-enabled flash-drive to its elegant evolution as an app, the ability to carry around your music has been a major driving force in the design and adoption of mobile devices.

The habit of never leaving home without music made it possible to imagine toting around TV shows, movies, books, magazines and newspapers on the pocket computer that also makes phone calls. It provided a major reason for increasingly capacious — and pricey — smartphones and tablets.

Tech wrap: Microsoft carts out Mango phone OS

Microsoft announced an update of its Windows phone software, code-named Mango, hoping a host of new features will help it close the gap on smartphone leaders Google and Apple. The update involves 500 new features, including IE 9 as the mobile browser, integrated Twitter and LinkedIn feeds, automated Facebook check-ins, and access to more than 17,000 downloadable applications.

The updated software will appear on new Windows phones beginning this fall, and be available for existing Windows phone users before that, although Microsoft has not set a timetable for making the update available.

Nokia said in statement that their first Windows Phone devices will be powered by the Mango OS.

Tech wrap: Sony takes a $3.2 billion beating

Sony will post its third straight annual net loss for the year that ended in March after writing off tax credits in the wake of Japan’s earthquake and tsunami, the latest in a string of grim headlines on the consumer electronics giant. The firm, which previously forecast a net profit of 70 billion yen for 2010/11, surprised markets on Monday by declaring the need to update investors with revised estimates ahead of its official earnings report on Thursday. Sony said it now expected to post a net loss of 260 billion yen ($3.2 billion). The annual net loss would be Sony’s second-largest ever.

IBM surged past old rival Microsoft in market value for the first time since April 1996, marking the latest twist in the fluctuating fortunes of two of the world’s most storied tech companies. Microsoft’s stock has been stagnant since the tech bubble burst in 2000, as investors doubt its ability to move beyond its Windows operating system and Office suite of software. In the meantime, “Big Blue” has refashioned itself as a specialist in business software, servers and consulting, jettisoning its PC business along the way.

Shares of Apple regrouped after Wall Street brushed off the impact of an explosion last week that shut a Foxconn factory in China producing its iPad.

Stop the Scanners: Google halts efforts to digitize old newspapers

Google’s has long touted a grand vision of organizing the world’s information. But on Friday, the world’s No.1 Internet search engine acknowledged that not all of that information will make the cut.

The company has put the brakes on a three-year-old project to scan and digitize newspaper archives dating back to the 18th century.

Google said that websurfers can continue to access its existing free online archive of newspapers – the company has digitized more than 3.5 million issues of more than 2,000 newspaper titles worldwide – but the company will no longer add to the collection by scanning old newspapers.