Rewardle bets on consumers embracing wearables in a bid to bring tech to merchant reward cards

8:54AM | Tuesday, 19 August

Melbourne-based tech startup Rewardle has released its first version of technology that enables merchants to accept payments from their customers via wearable technology such as smartwatches.   Believing that wearables are here to stay, Rewardle founder and managing director Ruwan Weerasooriya says they pre-ordered test devices and started working through concepts for how wearable tech could extend and enhance the Rewardle offering.   “We’re on a mission to provide the digital engagement tools and business intelligence used by large retail chains to local High St merchants by unlocking the power of mobile computing, cloud based software and big data analysis,” he says.   “We've made sure that local High St merchants are armed with the technology to take advantage of this emerging consumer trend and to our knowledge we are among the first in the country to provide smartwatch users with the ability to pay for an item such as a coffee using their wearable device.”   Typical merchants that use the Rewardle platform include cafes, restaurants, hair and beauty salons, pubs/bars, gyms, grocery stores, day spas, pharmacies, juice bars and quick service food outlets.   The company has given the traditional “buy nine, get one free” paper punch card a digital makeover and extended its utility by adding prepayment, mobile ordering and social media integrations.   Merchants place a tablet running the Rewardle app on their counter allowing customers to interact with the tablet using a card, the Rewardle smartphone app and now their wearable device to check-in. Once checked in the customer can record their visit, collect points, redeem rewards and make payment.   "We've only scratching the surface with this initial iteration but as a lean start up we'll continue experimenting and go much deeper as we learn," Weerasooriya says.   Juniper Research forecast that the retail revenue from smart wearable devices, including smart-watches and glasses, will reach $19 billion by 2018. Locally, Australian research firm Telsyte has predicted Aussies will spend more than $1 billion on wearables, including smart-watches, wrist bands and glasses by 2016.

Bitter pill for tablet industry as sales drop and Android overtakes Apple

8:33AM | Tuesday, 19 August

Tablet sales have dropped by almost a third in the last six months, as the Australian love affair with the gadgets reaches a slowdown.   A study released today by technology analyst firm Telsyte, shows there were 1.8 million tablets sold in Australia in the first half of 2014, a 28% decline from the previous six months.   In 2013, the Australian tablet market grew by a remarkable 147%, with 1.14 million units sold in the first quarter of the year.   Telsyte managing director Foad Fadaghi told SmartCompany Australians were early adopters of the tablet trend, but the market had reached a natural slow point.   “There is a natural slow down when it reaches mainstream levels,” he says.   Fadaghi says this is due to a combination of factors, including the fact nearly half of all Australians now owned a tablet.   He says longer upgrade cycles also mean products are becoming less readily obsolete, meaning people were holding onto their tablets for longer.   Meanwhile, for the first time in Australia, Android tablets have overtaken Apple for market share.   More Android units were sold in the first half of 2014 than Apple tablets, with Android devices winning a 47% of the market, compared to Apple’s 46%.   Fadaghi says Android devices have cornered the market by offering cheaper tablets, which many Australians are buying as a second tablet for their children or as a smaller back-up device.   “They have started to be seen as toys or as low cost gadgets,” he says.   However, Fadaghi believes Apple will reclaim their top spot by the end of the calendar year, with the release of their new operating system and its highly anticipated new iPhone.   “The halo effect of the iPhone 6 will give Apple a boost. I anticipate they will release an update of the iPad too,” he says.   This article originally appeared on SmartCompany.

'Phablets' and wearable tech on-trend for Aussie consumers

7:41PM | Wednesday, 2 July

Tablet-sized phones, or ‘phablets’, and wearable technology such as smartwatches are the big growth areas to watch as Australia’s attraction to smartphones continues to strengthen, according to research released yesterday.   While recent studies have illustrated smartphone trends in the US, the latest research from local analyst firm Telsyte shows there were 16 million smartphone users in Australia at the end of June 2014, an increase of 1.1 million over the previous six months.   Telsyte’s Smartphone Market Study 2014-2018, estimates 5.6 million new smartphones will be sold in Australia during the second half of 2014 and points to strong growth in the area of phablets, smartwatches and fitness bands.   Phablets – or smartphones with a screen size of 5.5 to 6.9 inches – are still a niche market according to Telsyte, despite more manufacturers releasing larger-screen devices that blur the line between a smartphone and tablet.   But Telsyte believes the phablet will be boosted by the entrance of Apple later this year, when the tech giant is expected to launch a 5.5 inch iPhone 6.   “Some 40% of survey respondents that intend to purchase an iPhone 6 indicated they would only consider it if it has a larger screen,” said Telsyte managing director Foad Fadaghi.   The research also found while smartwatch adoption is still embryonic in Australia, the product category might be accelerated with the arrival of an Apple “iWatch” in 2014. Samsung is the current market leader.   Smart fitness bands are currently more popular than smartwatches, according to the study, due to their lower price points and popularity as a gift. Fitbit is the market leader.   Telsyte research also shows that Android smartphones have now overtaken iPhones as the main devices purchased on contract from carriers, following strong carrier promotions and the reduction in iPhone subsidies.   This article first appeared on SmartCompany.

Wireless world: Telcos invest as we become more mobile

5:44AM | Tuesday, 20 May

News that Telstra plans to build a national wi-fi network, as reported by The Australian and Fairfax mastheads, shouldn’t come as a shock. Given the volatility of anything and everything to do with mobile internet use, nothing should surprise us any more. But it should scare you.   Telstra’s plan, which is being announced right on Crikey’s deadline, will — according to tweets from ZDNet’s Josh Taylor — reportedly see $100 million spent showering the country with new modems for broadband customers who choose to act as wi-fi hotspots using Fon sharing technology. It’ll be free to use by the telco’s fixed broadband customers, although any data used will count towards their quota, and a “small daily fee” for others.   Arranging free wi-fi for fixed broadband customers is not uncommon in Asian and North American cities, although the Fon sharing is a less common twist, and it’s a logical move for Telstra for the same reasons. It makes the telco’s fixed broadband packages more attractive, it reduces the load on 3G/4G mobile broadband services in high-traffic areas, and — not talked about so much — it provides more opportunities to track customer behaviour for all those data mining and monetisation strategies that make modern telcos into something much more like a media company.   For all the hype around the “mobility revolution”, and while consumers are increasingly using their mobile devices away from the home or office, the growth in Australia’s mobile broadband market was just 3% in the 12 months to December 2013, according to research released yesterday by analyst firm Telsyte.   The proliferation of public wi-fi hotspots, which Telsyte analyst Alvin Lee says are “sprouting like mushrooms and are now widely supported by local councils, shopping centres, local businesses and increasingly our transport networks”, means that there’s less need for a dedicated mobile broadband device — particularly as most smartphones can now operate as a wi-fi hotspot, and people are becoming more comfortable pressing that button.   “The opportunity for dedicated mobile broadband is diminishing even as mobile traffic continues to grow,” Lee said. As a result, Telsyte believes telcos will only be able to monetise 20% of the consumer media tablet market.   Indeed, why would anyone want to load yet another device into their pocket, perhaps with yet another charger, and certainly with another monthly bill?   Whether this will play out well commercially for Telstra remains to be seen. As Fairfax’s David Ramli points out:   “Other Australian companies have attempted to use Wi-Fi hotspots to give customers more internet services on the go with very low success rates.”   iiNet sees its wi-fi offering more as a marketing tool.   My weekend in San Francisco showed how this might play out. AT&T has wi-fi hotspots across the city, and you see their branding every time you look for a connection. It left an impression. But at the same time, most bars, cafes and shopping malls have “free” wi-fi too — along with power outlets and somewhere to sit.   “Free” is in scare quotes there because the use of wi-fi for tracking consumers is becoming ever more sophisticated. Toronto-based Turnstyle is just one of the companies pushing the boundaries in this regard. By rolling out a unified wi-fi network throughout the shopping district, they can track people as they go about their business. As The Wall Street Journal reported in January:   “Turnstyle’s weekly reports to clients use aggregate numbers and don’t include people’s names. But the company does collect the names, ages, genders, and social media profiles of some people who log in with Facebook to a free wi-fi service that Turnstyle runs at local restaurants and coffee shops… It uses that information, along with the wider foot traffic data, to come up dozens lifestyle categories, including yoga-goers, people who like theater, and hipsters.”   If Telstra is planning something similar — and given that this is increasingly the way things are done, I suspect it’s likely — then this could be the start of one of the most comprehensive consumer tracking databases in the country.   This article first appeared on Crikey.

PayPal launches device to accept payments from your mobile

4:48AM | Tuesday, 8 April

PayPal Australia today announced the next generation of PayPal Here, an app and Bluetooth device allowing Australians to easily accept credit card payments from their smartphone.   The secure, chip and PIN credit card reader has been specifically designed for Australia, where Chip and PIN authentication is widely adopted and will soon be mandated across ATMs, cards and payments terminals.   An evolution of the first PayPal Here, launched in March 2012, the new device turns a smartphone into a complete payments solution. It also enables businesses to generate and distribute invoices and has the ability to log cash payments.   The move by PayPal pre-empts rumours of Square mobile payments launching in Australia.   Square makes a free credit card reader, which business owners can attach to iPhones, iPads and Android devices, allowing them to accept credit card payments. It has proven very popular amongst US merchants.   Speculation about a local launch was fuelled earlier this year when Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull visited Square’s offices in San Francisco and tweeted a photo of himself with Mr Dorsey, alongside a caption that said he had discussed “disruptive innovation soon to come to Aus”.   Telsyte analyst Foad Fadaghi told StartupSmart the success or failure of any of these devices in the market will come down to fees and charges.   Fadaghi noted that the reasons for Square’s success in the US did not necessarily translate to the Australian market, as we had different banking requirements and regulations.   While PayPal had a large user-base in Australia, their big competitors are the major banks and financial institutions.   “What PayPal does have though is a large user-base and a trusted brand,” Fadaghi says.   Fadaghi says the announcement by PayPal is a continuation of where things are headed in the market, and we can expect increasing innovation in the payment solutions space.   There are no monthly subscription fees to use PayPal Here, just a one-off charge of AUD$139 for the card reader and then a small fee per transaction using the card reader. Costs are 1.95% for credit card payments (via card reader), 2.4% plus 30 cents for invoicing and 2.9% plus 30 cents for credit cards keyed in to the app (without use of card reader).   Registrations for PayPal Here product are open from today. The devices scheduled to ship within the first half of the year.

The iPhone is seven years old today – what’s next in mobile phone technology

1:37AM | Friday, 10 January

It’s seven years today since the launch of Apple’s first iPhone and since then it’s brought about new sectors of business, increased connectivity around the globe and forced its competitors to innovate.   On this day seven years ago (January 9 in the United States), Steve Jobs introduced the first iPhone in a keynote address at the Macworld Conference and Expo in San Francisco.   It wasn’t the first smartphone, it didn’t have the best hardware, but its software and usability quickly made it the dominant phone on the market and Apple challenged the positions of other phone manufacturers and telecommunications companies.   With the introduction of the iPhone, opportunities for businesses emerged which had never before been realised. Social media became pervasive, app businesses emerged and new payment technologies were developed.   When the iPhone launched on the market in November 2007, thousands of people queued around the world to secure their first iPhone. Many of these people are still devout Apple users today.   Telsyte managing director Foad Fadaghi told SmartCompany in the past seven years consumers have adopted smartphone technology at a rapid rate.   “This has created both opportunities and challenges for businesses. On the app side of smartphones, it’s provided a new platform for businesses to sell and interact with customers which is more engaged and it’s also facilitated micro-transactions,” he says.   “But it’s also created additional requirements for businesses to have mobile websites and to actually develop these apps.”   Technology expert Paul Wallbank told SmartCompany the iPhone also challenged the business models of telecommunications companies.   “The iPhone broke down the telco model of trying to lock us into their proprietary applications… Apple went behind the backs of the telcos and they’ve never really forgiven it for it,” he says.   “The iPhone has been a huge thing for business. Apple created an app store and showed businesses they can help drive sales and productivity. It’s helped businesses both as technology consumers and by allowing them to create their own apps to capture further business opportunities.”   Thanks to the rise of the smartphone, driven largely by the success of the iPhone, businesses such as Appster, Smart50 winner Outware Mobile and AppsPro have come to exist.   Businesses have also been forced to up their customer engagement via social media, new banking methods have been developed to allow people to transfer money and monitor their accounts on the go, and increasingly businesses are developing payment technologies which allow people to pay for things like their morning coffee while in transit.   But Wallbank says the best innovation has been the most simple – making business mobile.   “It’s liberated people from the office and automated a lot of field workers systems. At the time the iPhone was released I was running an IT support business and I was struggling to find something which would let my field technicians do their paperwork on the road,” he says.   “Smartphones have changed the way many industries can work with their mobile workers. Before the iPhone, the mobile revolution was stunted by the telcos and companies like Blackberry and Nokia, but Apple opened up the platform.”   Both Fadaghi and Wallbank agree in the next five years smartphones will become integrated with other smart devices.   “What we’ll see is an extension of the smartphone to a number of connected devices and smart accessories. Their functionality will be extended through wearable devices, docking solutions and software which lets it integrate with other devices,” Fadaghi says.   “When it reaches maximum penetration innovation will be around its integration with other devices… There is a pent up demand for Google Glass and these kinds of products at certain price points.”   Fadaghi says the success of wearable devices will depend on their price.   “Longer term, one thing which will occur is the computing part of the technology will get smaller and smaller. You’ll have the full functionality of a smartphone in wearable devices, SD card-sized computers and smart computing units will be applied in different ways like wearables and sensor type devices.”   Wallbank says the current International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas has shown there will be more integration between smartphones and in-car navigation and entertainment systems, fitness equipment and medical devices.   “Smartphones and tablets are becoming the centre of our digital lives. They’ll be the remote control for everything from home security systems to fitness watches,” he says.   “The trend prior to smartphones was phones getting smaller. I think the form factor of the phones will evolve as we use them. It could go back to tiny phones if we use them to engage with things like Google Glass and smart TVs predominantly.”   Wallbank says just as the motorcar changed the twentieth century, “the smartphone will change the twenty-first”.

Online retail sales surge in April

5:29AM | Friday, 31 May

The latest data for online retail sales have shown once again the digital world is faring better than bricks-and-mortar, providing some hope despite recent lacklustre industry results.   The results from NAB comes alongside complaints earlier this week from the retail industry that an unseasonably warm autumn has caused a build-up of winter stock among some retailers, which will be forced to sell at a discount.   The latest NAB statistics show Australians spent $13.5 billion online in the year to April, equivalent to about 6% of bricks-and-mortar spending.   After a dip in March, April recorded 23% growth year-on-year for online sales, with the strongest growth recorded in fashion, daily deals and media – three industries which have typically recorded strong online spending.   Strongest spending per capita was recorded among those aged between 25 to 54 years old, with residents in the Australian Capital Territory, Northern Territory and Western Australia. Regional WA has recorded the highest growth rate for per capita spending.   NAB chief economist Alan Oster said in the bank's report it was "encouraging" to see a gradual lift among retail sentiment in April, and noted online sales represent 6% of all spending, up from 5.2% at the same time last year.   "While we're seeing businesses take a multi-channel approach by developing an online presence alongside a traditional storefront, growth rates among businesses remains mixed," he said.   "However, encouragingly, online sales have grown by over $2 billion in the past year, evidence that retailers are becoming more sophisticated in how they engage with their customers."   Based on the share of spend, department and variety stores took the biggest slice at 36%, which coincides with David Jones' announcement this week that online sales have continued to grow well.   Homewares and appliances followed at 18%, followed by groceries and liquor at 14% and media at 11%. Games and toys were the smallest group for total spending, at just 2%.   Once again, domestic retailers dominated spending with 72% of all money spent, slightly below the average level of last year but above the low of 71% in July 2012.   But the growth in spending isn't the only positive. Telsyte senior analyst Sam Yip told SmartCompany not only is spending increasing, but average spending has increased as well.   "We're seeing the average price point increase, so we're seeing people spend more on high-price travel deals and restaurants and so on."   Daily deals sites, which are regularly some of the most popular online retail destinations, have been experimenting with more pricey travel products.   Yip also points to the share of spending being directed towards department stores, saying while the increase in spending is encouraging, department stores still lag behind the rest of the industry.   "It is encouraging, but the scale is quite small. These sorts of companies need to realise they can operate significantly differently from their bricks-and-mortar operations."   "Once you move online, it's all about range."   This story first appeared on SmartCompany.

Dropbox swoops on start-up app Mailbox in rumoured $100 million deal

3:19AM | Monday, 18 March

It's been a while since the tech industry has seen a massive takeover deal, but this weekend delivered: cloud-storage group Dropbox agreed to acquire the popular new email app Mailbox for a price rumoured to be as high as $US100 million.   The price is a huge premium for the app, which has only been available for a few weeks. But it also shows businesses in Silicon Valley are still willing to shell out massive amounts of money for very early, or even premature, ideas.   Mailbox has become popular for its mail system, which allows users to delay receiving messages until certain times to help clear inboxes as quickly as possible.   Mick Liubinskas, the co-founder of Australian start-up incubator Pollenizer, says email has become "one of the biggest areas of opportunity".   "There are a lot of people attacking this in many different ways and it's a very good one to crack as well," he says.   "But it's also a problem, because how do you disrupt something that's so embedded?"   Reports, first from The Wall Street Journal, started emerging over the weekend that Dropbox had acquired Mailbox, where the company confirmed Mailbox would remain a separate app. Dropbox chief Drew Houston said he believed the acquisition would help the app grow "much faster".   Houston also said he believed the deal would help Mailbox add new features quickly, such as handling attachments. In a blog post, he said the app's simplicity caught the company's attention.   "Dropbox doesn't replace your folders or your hard drive: it makes them better. The same is true with Mailbox. It doesn't replace your email: it makes it better. Whether it's your Dropbox or your Mailbox, we want to find ways to simplify your life."   With both Dropbox and Mailbox working so closely with cloud-based services, an acquisition makes sense.   Mailbox is created by Orchestra, which was founded by Gentry Underwood. The app caused a splash during its release by creating a digital queue, with users having to wait days or even weeks to access the app – the company wanted to avoid any downtime caused by a rush of users.   It was a smart move, bringing attention to the app's main feature – the ability to not only archive email quickly, but also tell email messages when they should be sent.   For instance, users can decide to read an email later that day, or even in a few days. The Mailbox servers handle the message in the meantime, and then send the message back as per the user's instructions.   Orchestra had already raised $5 million in funding from Charles River Ventures, SV Angel, Kapor Capital and Crunch Fund. The app already has 1.3 million users.   The amazing part of the deal is the price, with TechCrunch claiming the deal was done for "well over" $50 million, to as high as $100 million, although All Things Digital says the structure of the deal makes an actual valuation difficult.   The deal is in many ways a throwback to the past few years when small, relatively unproven businesses won millions in funding, such as the $1 billion Facebook-Instagram deal. More recently, however, those deals have become rarer.   Telsyte analyst Rodney Gedda says the acquisition is a smart one, as email has been ripe for innovation – it's essentially the same product as it was 20 years ago.   "It was designed for simple messages that weren't time-critical. It was never designed for collaboration and sorting in the sense that a structured data application would be."   Some have tried to advance the email process, such as Google with Google Wave, although the tech giant eventually shut that project down due to poor usage.   The biggest change, Gedda says, is the move to cloud-based services.   "The challenge now is to build upon that base line of email to make it more functional, collaborative and user-friendly, and then extend it to any device."   This story first appeared on SmartCompany.

Samsung joins Visa for mobile payments, Australian rollout could take a while

3:40AM | Friday, 15 March

Long after many in the tech industry believed contactless payments in phones would be the norm, a new partnership between technology giant Samsung and payment group Visa may lead to more widespread adoption of using phones as wallets.

Facebook flags move towards movies, books and fitness apps

2:05AM | Wednesday, 13 February

Facebook has highlighted opportunities for app developers after indicating its next major app categories will be movies, books and fitness, having conquered categories such as gaming.

Group buying consumer spending revised down to $530 million

3:56AM | Monday, 11 March

Group buying niche players have been warned of tough times ahead following predictions that consumer spending in the sector will drop to $530 million this year, revised down from more than $600 million.

iPad mini lends itself to location-based apps: Expert

3:28AM | Tuesday, 12 March

App developers should be able to quickly get to grips with the newly released iPad mini, and will also be presented with several opportunities, including the creation of location-based apps, according to an industry expert.

Group buying consolidation gathers pace as and Ouffer merge

6:08AM | Monday, 18 June

Australia’s group buying market is in the midst of a consolidation period, according to analysts, after Melbourne-based site announced it will merge with Sydney-based site Ouffer.

Businesses failing to create mobile-optimised sites: Report

5:57AM | Monday, 28 May

Less than a third of Australian businesses have created a mobile-optimised website, with even fewer creating new apps, a new report reveals.

Nova network launches group buying site

3:39PM | Monday, 19 March

Radio network DMG Radio Australia has made its foray into the increasingly crowded group buying market, launching a website that offers daily deals to its 40,000-strong database.

Three ways to get a slice of Australia’s $16 billion online retail market

3:32AM | Tuesday, 6 March

Start-ups can carve a slice of Australia’s $16 billion retail industry, a new report suggests, by focusing their efforts on online discounts and deals, mobile apps and group buying.

User review start-up Yelp valued at $US1.3 billion in IPO

3:54AM | Monday, 5 March

Tech start-up Yelp saw its shares surge as much as 60% on its public listing debut on the Nasdaq stock exchange, valuing it at $US1.3 billion, despite the business failing to turn a profit to date.

Video games sales dip not deterring start-up developers

3:24AM | Friday, 15 March

Australia’s interactive games industry remains buoyant as local developers lead the way, industry groups say, despite a dip in “traditional retail” computer and video games sales during 2011.

Analysts highlight hidden costs of mobile devices

11:32AM | Monday, 14 November

Small businesses need to be aware of the hidden costs associated with equipping employees with mobile devices, analysts warn, as employers attempt to make their staff more productive.

Samsung Galaxy Nexus tipped to boost Android apps market

10:27AM | Thursday, 20 October

An expert says the Samsung Galaxy Nexus could stimulate the creation of apps for Android tablets, after becoming the first smartphone to launch with Google’s Android 4.0 software.