McDonald’s Gets Softcard

Softcard (formerly Isis), a mobile payment system that competes with Apple Pay and Google Wallet, announced today that it is accepted at more than 14,000 McDonald’s locations around the country beginning today. Smartphone owners can make NFC-based mobile payments at the register and the drive-thru at all McDonald’s restaurants. McDonald’s will also accept Apple Pay.

Last month, Subway also announced a partnership with Softcard to support mobile payments.

Softcard is free to download and is compatible with more than 80 Android handsets sold by AT&T, T-Mobile, and Verizon Wireless. Softcard combines payments, offers and loyalty in one app. Softcard uses the EMV Contactless specification and SmartTap technology to enable payments, offers and loyalty redemption through one tap.

Apple Pay saw more than one million card activations within 72 hours of launch, reports NFC World, and is already the leading NFC payments player in the US, according to Apple CEO Tim Cook. Cook outlined future growth plans for the service at the WS Journal D Live conference this week, including a potential partnership with Chinese ecommerce giant Alibaba.

US pharmacy chains Rite Aid and CVS plan to launch their own CurrentC mobile payment service in 2015, and have stopped accepting NFC payments, blocking mobile payments services like Apple Pay, Google Wallet and Softcard.

Unfortunately, CurrentC is now warning people that hackers have already swiped some of the beta tester’s email addresses.

Mobile proximity payments have to date proven lacklustre despite the hundreds of millions spent on developing these platforms. But loyalty rewards and benefits of the digital wallet is now seen by many as potentially the killer app that will help to finally ignite the long simmering mobile proximity payment market.

Ovum’s research indicates that 53% of consumers globally report they’ve either used or are interested in redeeming offers and coupons with their handsets, while 44% have used or are interested using their mobile device to pay for things in store and restaurants, explains Gilles Ubaghs, Senior Analyst, Financial Services Technology at Ovum.

Apple SIM: Sidestepping Carriers?

AT&T Mobility, Sprint, T-Mobile US and UK operator EE support a new SIM card for Apple’s iPad Air 2 and iPad mini 3 that lets customers switch between carriers. With an unlocked phone or tablet you can change your service provider by changing the SIM card, but with Apple’s new SIM card, you won’t need to buy a second (or third) SIM card.

Apple’s SIM card enables customers to easily switch service to a different carrier. As GigaOM notes, it’s unclear how the provisioning process will work if customers want to switch between carriers. While Verizon Wireless will provide wireless service for Apple’s new tablet, it is not listed as a supporter of the new Apple SIM card, notes Fierce Wireless.

The new Apple SIM is preinstalled on iPad Air 2 with Wi-Fi + Cellular models,” Apple explains. “The Apple SIM gives you the flexibility to choose from a variety of short-term plans from select carriers in the U.S. and UK right on your iPad. So whenever you need it, you can choose the plan that works best for you–with no long-term commitments. And when you travel, you may also be able to choose a data plan from a local carrier for the duration of your trip.”

The Subscriber Identity Module stores your International Mobile Subscriber Identity number (IMSI), which is a unique serial number (ICCID), along with security and network data, your PIN, and a personal unblocking code. The SIM allows you to connect to the network and identifies you.

The International Mobile Station Equipment Identity (IMEI) number is on the phone itself. It identifies the device. The IMEI number is like a VIN number on a vehicle and can be used for “blacklisting” the phone, stopping a stolen phone from accessing the network.

[The Stingray is a brand name of an IMSI/ESN catcher sold to law enforcement. Burner phones (prepaid phones) aren't untraceable but don't require the user’s personal data at the point of sale or by the service provider. The Gossamer is a small portable device that tricks phones into handing over their IMSI, Temporary Mobile Subscriber Identity and device data. The NSA often locates drone targets by analyzing the activity of a SIM card, rather than the actual content of the calls, according to Glenn Greenwald. Makes you wonder if (or how many) people have been killed because they picked up a discarded phone that was interrogated by an IMSI Catcher on a Drone. ]

It’s easy to see how a SIM that supports multiple carriers simultaneously could disrupt the mobile industry, says Dan Frommer.

“Imagine booting up your iPhone for the first time and seeing four competing offers for your business from different operators—with short or no contract duration.”

Apple’s new tablets are thinner, faster and golder.

The Pad Air 2 delivers faster connectivity with 802.11ac Wi-Fi with Multiple-In-Multiple-Out (MIMO) at data rates up to 866 Mbps. iPad Air 2 with Wi-Fi + Cellular integrates even more LTE bands and comes with expanded LTE for up to 50 percent faster cellular connections, plus support for Dual Carrier HSDPA (for carrier aggregation in the downlink) and HSDPA+ (with MIMO).

The iPad Air 2 has full support of most LTE bands.

But Apple’s iPad Mini 3 page shows only support for LTE bands 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 7, 8, 13, 17, 18, 19, 20, 25, and 26, but not Sprint’s band 41.

The new iPad mini 3 is powered by the Apple-designed A7 chip and M7 motion processor compared to the newer A8X and M8 chips incorporated into the iPad Air 2 as well as a similar A8 chip in the iPhone 6 and 6+ which support Band 41 (2.5 GHz) for LTE on Sprint, as well as China and elsewhere.

Clearly, if Apple hopes to move many iPad minis in the Chinese market, they will need Band 41 support (and perhaps an A8X chip). Apple launched its latest iPhone 6 in China today. According to China Mobile, subscriptions reached 799.13 million, compared to 755.19 million a year ago. That included 244.5 million users of 3G services, and 40.95 million largely on their new TD-LTE network using band 41.

The Nexus 6, by contrast, supports virtually all LTE bands world-wide as well as all three commercially used US 700MHz bands (bands 12, 13, and 17), making the Nexus 6 the very first device to be fully interoperable on the 700MHz band, completely eliminating the interoperability problem with this phone. Sprint plans to support 700 MHz Band 12, and expand its LTE network partnerships to new locations, making it comparable in size and coverage to AT&T and Verizon’s LTE networks.

T-Mobile has a similar strategy with roaming partnerships. T-Mobile is expanding LTE deployments in 700 MHz A Block as well as the 1900 MHz PCS spectrum and its AWS LTE spectrum.

Verizon and AT&T both told the FCC that compliance with the lower “A Block”, which smaller carriers use in the United States, would not be practical or cost/effectice. Guess that problem was solved when Dish lowered their potential power on the single channel “E Block”. Perhaps adding FirstNet compliance (on Band 14) may also be comparitively easy. Of course they’d have to deal with Motorola Solutions, the part of Motorola not sold to Lenovo.

Motorola Mobility consists of the Mobile Devices business which produces smartphones and the Home business which produces set-top boxes and cable modems. Google sold most of Motorola Mobility to Lenovo for $2.91 billion.

iPhone 6 Approved for China

Apple® today announced that iPhone 6 and 6 Plus will be available in China beginning Friday, October 17 for all three major carriers. With support for TD-LTE and FDD-LTE, the new iPhones will provide access to the 4G/LTE networks from China Mobile, China Telecom and China Unicom across mainland China.

Reuters reports the phones received regulator scrutiny requiring Apple to reassure the Chinese government that the smartphones did not have security “backdoors” through which U.S. agencies can access users’ data.

In July, Chinese state media accused Apple of providing user data to U.S. agencies and called for ‘severe punishment’. Apple responded by publicly denying the existence of backdoors.

Apple won approval to sell the phones after also addressing risks of personal information leaks related to the operating system’s diagnostic tools, China’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT) said on its website on Tuesday.

Apple earlier this month was hiring a head of law enforcement in Beijing to deal with user data requests from China’s government, reports Reuters, after it began storing private data on Chinese soil for the first time last month.

Apple iPhone 6 & Apple Watch Announced

Apple is livecasting their product announcements this morning — but not for Windows users — you’ll need a Safari browser or Apple TV to see it.

Apple is expected to unveil the 4.7-inch and 5.5-inch iPhone 6 alongside the iWatch, and will likely provide updates on iOS 8 and OS X Yosemite.

Live coverage is available at C/Net, Engadget, The Verge, MacRumors, Apple Insider, NY Times, Gizmodo, Business Week, TWIT.tv, USA Today and others.

Apple’s fall product announcements included two new iPhones running IOS-8, the iPhone 6, with a 4.7-inch Retina display at 1334 x 750 resolution, and the the iPhone 6 Plus with an even bigger 5.5-inch Retina HD display with 1920 x 1080 resolution.

The iPhone 6 Plus features optical image stabilization that compensates for hand shake in low light and works with iOS 8 to reduce subject motion. High-definition video on iPhone gets faster frame rates up to 60fps for 1080p video and 240fps for slo-mo at 720p. With second generation 64-bit desktop-class architecture, the all-new A8 chip offers faster performance and is more energy efficient. With Metal, a new graphics technology in iOS 8, developers can take performance of the A8 chip even further to bring console-class 3D games to iPhone.

The new phones do not appear to support LTE Band 12, or 700 MHz Block A. The phones support LTE Band 13 (700 MHz Upper C Block ) and LTE Band 17 (700 MHz Lower B Block), which are used by Verizon and AT&T Mobility, respectively. When there’s poor cellular reception, people will be able to make regular calls over Wi-Fi. The handoff between the two networks will be seamless. In the U.S., this feature will initially be available through T-Mobile.

iPhone 6 will cost $199 (US) for the 16GB model, $299 for the 64GB model and, for the first time, a new 128GB model for $399 with a two-year contract, while the 6 Plus will cost $299 (US) for the 16GB model, $399 for the 64GB model and $499 (US) for the new 128GB model with a two-year contract.

The new Apple Watch is a new category for Apple. It features a Digital Crown to scroll, zoom and navigate, without obstructing the display. The Digital Crown also serves as the Home button and a convenient way to access Siri. The Apple Watch starts at $349 and will be available early next year in three versions: Apple Watch, Apple Watch Sport, and Apple Watch Edition, the last a premium line made of 18-karat gold.

The Retina display on Apple Watch features Force Touch, a technology that senses the difference between a tap and a press and introduces the Taptic Engine and a built-in speaker that together discreetly enable an entirely new vocabulary of alerts and notifications you can both hear and feel. Apple Watch features Wi-Fi 802.11b/g and Bluetooth 4.0 to pair seamlessly with your iPhone.

In March Google unveiled Android Wear, their modified version of Android for wearables. The platform runs on Samsung Gear Live, LG’s G Watch, and Motorola’s Moto 360, among others.

Like the $250 Moto 360, the $350 Apple Watch features wireless inductive charging. While Apple’s watch can’t make phone calls untethered, like Samsung’s Gear S, it has a variety of unique features with the “Digital Crown” providing innovative navigation.

The market for wearable bands such as Fitbit increased 634% worldwide in the first half of 2014 compared with the first half of 2013, according to the analysis firm Canalys. Apple custom-designed its own S1 SiP (System in Package) to miniaturize an entire computer architecture onto a single chip.

Apple Pay was introduced with the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus. It’s an easy way to securely pay for physical goods and services in stores or apps with just the touch of a finger. Users can pay securely and conveniently in stores by simply holding the phone near the contactless reader while keeping a finger on Touch ID. It can also be used with the watch.

The iPhone 6 has a 4.7-inch display compared to the 5.1-inch display on the similarly priced Galaxy S5, perhaps Apple’s biggest smartphone competitor. Resolution on the smaller iPhone 6 is 1334 x 750 compared to 1920×1080 pixels on the Samsung S5.

The 5.5-inch display on the larger iPhone 6 Plus has 1920×1080 pixels, compared to 2560×1440 resolution on the 5.7-inch display on the Samsung Galaxy Note 4, announced last week. The Note 4’s pixel density is 551ppi, compared to “only” 401ppi on the Apple’s 6 Plus (not that anyone could see the difference unless you have a VR hood on).

The iPhone 6 uses an A8 64-bit processor with 2 billion transistors – double that of the previous A7 and claims 25 percent faster CPU and 50 percent better graphics performance. The new M8 motion-sensing co-processor can estimate distance, track elevation, and has a barometer sensor.

No new desktops or laptops were introduced by Apple today. TechMeme has the latest posts from bloggers and news organizations.

This year, electronics vendors will ship about 175 million phablets, according to IDC, passing the 170 million laptops expected to ship during the same period. Next year, phablet shipments will top 318 million units, surpassing the 233 million tablets forecast to ship in 2015.

Dualing Webcasts from Apple and Intel

Dualing webstreams are expected Tuesday, reports The Oregonian. Apple is livecasting their new line of laptops, phones and wearables — but not for Windows users — you’ll need a Safari browser or Apple TV to see it.

Forty miles north, Intel will have its own livestreaming keynote by chief executive Brian Krzanich at the big (but overshadowed) Intel Developer Forum in San Francisco.

Krzanich takes the stage at 9 a.m. Tuesday, an hour before Apple CEO Tim Cook begins speaking at 10 a.m. This is the second straight year that Apple has jumped in with their iPhone show on the same day.

Intel has already made a flurry of announcements leading up to its keynote, showing off a fashion-conscious smart bracelet, a tablet designed for seniors, a smartwatch development deal with Fossil and formally launching its Core M processor – the company’s first chip based on 14-nanometer circuitry.

Intel shares are up 35 percent this year, fueled by unexpected strength in PC sales, its nascent contract manufacturing business, its growing tablet business and Krzanich’s efforts to diversify into wearable technologies and “the Internet of Things.”

Tablets with Core M could be priced as low as US$699, but the initial batch of detachable tablets introduced at IFA last week are priced much higher. Lenovo’s 11.6-inch ThinkPad Helix 2 starts at $999, Dell’s 13.3-inch Latitude 13 7000 starts at $1,199, and Hewlett-Packard’s 13.3-inch Envy X2 starts at $1,049.99. Those products are expected to ship in September or October.

The new Core M processors will likely be included in Apple’s iMacs and MacBooks this year. Perhaps Apple will offer both OSX and IOS functionality in a 2-in-1 device. Unfortunately, OSX doesn’t have the touch capability of Windows 8.

VR Cinema: Killer App?

Samsung’s Galaxy Note 4, a 5.7″ phablet announced last week, is even bigger than premium flagship phones like the LG G3 with a 5.5″ display, the Sony Xperia Z3 with a 5.2″ display, and Samsung S-5, with a 5.1″ display, notes C/Net. The Note, with a Snapdragon 805, is also more powerful.

The 5″+ phablets should make tomorrow’s rumored 4.7″ iPhone 6 look downright dainty, but a 5.5″ iPhone 6L might fit right in.

The Note 4’s killer app may be VR. The Note 4-powered Gear VR headset was developed by John Carmack at Oculus, who has spent the last year spearheading this effort.

When docked, the Gear VR uses the Note 4 display and its processing power for full-immersion games and movies. The headset has its own magnetometer and accelerometer to calculate movement, as well as a proximity sensor. Built-in lenses with a 96-degree field of view sit between your eyes and the screen, and there’s a touchpad on the headset for navigating menus.


It’s expected to be available this fall in the U.S. for around $200. Whether VR cinema on an $800 phone and $200 headset will catch on is an open question.

Maybe a 5″ Huawei Ascend P7 will offer VR competition for half the cost.

Of course there’s Google Cardboard. Essentially, it’s a cardboard housing for a smartphone. You get a $10 lens kit, about $7 in off-the-shelf magnets, $3 worth of velcro, a rubber band, and an easily programmable $1.50 Near-Field Communication sticker tag for launching the companion mobile app. It lets you cruise through a landscape or city street in Google Earth, watch YouTube videos in a virtual theater or Chrome Experiments, visiting the Great Barrier Reef in a helicopter, or riding a roller coaster. The spherical videos are provided by AirPano.

Hop in the virtual pedicab. Let’s travel along the Champs-Élysées tonight!