"The Future is not an Inheritance, Its an Opportunity and an Obligation" – President William Jefferson Clinton

Category: Technology

Finally, To the Future of A CASHLESS World: Squareup and Smartphones

Paying with Squareup

Paying with Squareup

I am a touch odd – in the fact that I despise actual cash and sun dried tomatoes. The practice of carrying actual cash in my wallet has always stressed me out to no end, from the time I had to handle my own expenses. Its because you are asking me to predict the future. Can you predict the future ? Its because, you are asking me predict how much I might need to spend this evening. I don’t know is the simple response to that question. It might be five bucks for a couple of Americano’s at the local Starbucks over a book, it may be fifty bucks over beers with friends on a decent night, it may be hundred bucks over the latest New York Times bestsellers at Barnes and Noble, or it might be a couple of hundred bucks when am feeling pretty adventurous with my Christmas shopping. I don’t know, and I simply do not want to think about it. I am a huge proponent of not thinking, when I don’t need to, so please do not ask me to.

So, have you ever thought about why certain cheap (I call them – classless and crass) shops do not accept cards ? It is because when you pay using your visa, master card or american express, the card company takes a fraction of the transaction  Ofcourse, the shops that are so inexorably cheap think that they save, if we only pay in cash. But what are you really telling me, when you say you don’t accept cards ? Essentially, you say you don’t value me over the parasitic margins of profits that you make if you don’t use my card, right ? But from my perspective, it is all about user-experience, if I purchase a good from you, I need the monetary transaction to be as fluid as possible. When you don’t value my user experience, you not only lose my business that time, but you lose it forever. In the end you lose more than you gain. There is no way I would step into a shop that only accepts cash – I am fairly positive there are a number of great tasty little food joints around the city. I do – I passionately despise shops that take only cash. They put themselves before the customers. Ofcourse, I understand in some cases that it is driven by sheer economics and the shop owner can use every penny she can get, that’s fine. I do not have a problem with it, I just will not give you any of my business.Why would I ? Its a free market and I have millions of options – for a tasty dinner.

To each of those shops that demand cash – Welcome to the 21st Century. Not only are you one step behind now, but two gigantic steps behind technological evolution. Its not that dissimilar to using Office 2003 in a modern day setting. You may as well close the doors tonight, and find another craft.

I went to Comet this time in Ann Arbor – if  the Gods wanted a cappuccino, this is the cafe they would go to in my home town. As one of my statistics professors in Michigan so elegantly phrased it, ‘Coffee is the nectar of the Gods, right ?’. I saw a neat white (apple white) square block connected to an iPhone, using which the barista swiped my card. No card machine, no huge card reader monstrosities, no wires connected to the wall – a simple rectangular white square not too dissimilar from a poker chip. It was attached to the iPhone and she swiped my card in it. I paid my five bucks for the cappuccino, signed electronically, even got my receipt sent to my email electronically – and walked out in less than three minutes.

Welcome to Squareup – founded by Jack Dorsey, the original inventor (and later ousted) of our Tweet-Universe. That is ingenuity draped in elegance. Jack basically changed the way we pay for goods – for decades to come. Every small retail shop and organic cafes can have a Squareup now – because it only charges 2.75% of the transaction in return (much lower than other card companies). Squareup just went pro – it recently signed a partnership with Starbucks, and the eventual intention is to not even make us carry a card to get a cup of vanilla latte. You have an app called ‘Pay with Square‘ for iPhones, iPad and ofcourse – Androids. When you download the app – you essentially enter all your card details such as your name and card number on your phone, and have it electronically saved on your mobile device. Your device will already determine the Starbucks stores in the vicinity that use Squareup, and it will display the various locations of the same. In this framework, you do not pay using your card details, but by using your own name.

As you walk into a Starbucks from a really hot day for an iced Americano, the barista at the counter has her Squareup. Her iPhone will already tell her that your name is ‘Maryam Dagher’, and you just walk up to the counter and say, ‘Hello, My name is Maryam Dagher, and can I have an iced venti Americano, Please ?’. She identifies your name on her mobile, processes the transaction and you walk out with your iced Americano in less than two minutes. No cash, and not even cards – and it can potentially extend to any business around the world.

Isn’t it technological heaven ? As we rapidly approach a world where we don’t even need to carry our credit cards, to purchase goods any more – I just wanted to provide an honorable mention to those shops that still require cash. C-A-S-H –  the last time I used cash was when Jesus Christ walked this earth, and I heard even he tried to use his master-card, when he went out for coffee with Mary Magdalene.

PS: A special happy bday for one of good friends, who indeed bought an iced Americano at Starbucks, using Pay with Square


Apple versus Android: Tring Tring, Welcome to Round One

Apple v Android

Apple v Android

If you are a techno – geek, how can you not look forward to the heavy weight boxing prizefight that is Apple – v – Google, expressed more often than not in the form of iPhone – v-  Android ?

An iPhone and Android share a dynamic very similar to that of defense attorneys and state prosecutors – in that their relationship is adversarial by nature. Google with its prized possession of the Samsung powered Android – has elevated itself from an also-ran (to the iPhone), to a boxing heavy weight inside the ring competing for the global mobile market.

I must confess, I have an iPhone and a Mac, and my dad (despite my vehement disapproval and pleading), got himself an Android. I also have friends who have Androids, and hence I have had plenty of opportunities to play with them. I must say, Google with time has earned the grudging respect of an Apple KAD (Kool Aid Drinker – or Fanboys, as my friend Rajat would call it).

There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that the iPhone changed the dynamic of mobile phones in the world forever. It changed the rules of the entire game when it was first released in 2007.  As someone who cannot understand directions (in any shape or form), my life became infinitely better once I got my hands on an iPhone. It helped me find directions, a hilarious condition from which I have suffered all through my life. Finally, someone helped me to get to my dates on time.

Then came Android.

I can absolutely see how Apple claims that Samsung and Google pretty much reinvented (Apple – uses the word ‘ripped’) their ideas during the initial stages of developing the operating system. Anyone with a sense of reasonability will concur, but Android fanboys would also point out that Apple and Microsoft ‘reinvented’ the idea of a mouse from Xerox (undeniably true). Real Artists, Ship – right ?

There are so many intricate and inter-dependent layers of complexity to this dynamic.  For all the criticisms of the free market, one has to embrace and admire the role of the Invisible Hand – in providing us this sheer spectacle of Apple – v – Android. There is little doubt that the US patent system is completely preposterous – in fact it has broken down. However, it is the free market that consistently drives Apple and Android to the very periphery of their technology development capacity. The very first operating system of both products almost seem like mock-projects, when compared to their current products in the market – and it has only been five years since the iPhone even came into existence. As much as they both wish the other one did not exist, they know that both of them drive each other to extraordinary limits and progression. Even something as minor as the reverse camera that helps you see your own face – it came into existence only in iPhone 3. Its one of my favorite features, and the progress with product development is outstanding.

Their corporate culture and theory of product development could not be more different. Apple, in their own type – A controlling demanor, intend to control both the hardware and software. In fact some times I get the feeling Apple only allows me to rent their iPhone, as an iPhone does not work once you move from one continent to another. So, do I really own my iPhone ? I am not entirely sure. My freedom loving software friends have a field day by citing the above often – with regards to their criticisms of Apple. Google develops the Android operating system, but the hand set is manufactured by Samsung. It is true that any hand set can potentially have the capacity to install an Android in it, but what Google gains in open access – Apple claims its competitor loses by significantly compromising user experience (that is true – for the uninitiated, please try a HTC hand set with Android, and you would run back to Cupertino)

It is an undeniable fact that customers love your products, when you appeal to their emotions and not to their intellect (well, not first anyway). As much as we appreciate the chip capacity, and processor speed – you have to sell the product based on how an artist, a teacher, a scientist, or a child with hearing difficulties, can use it. Just ask Steve Jobs – it is indeed when he almost taunted me with his ‘If you don’t have an iPhone – well, you just dont have an iPhone‘ that got me to order mine within the next thirty minutes. With time I can clearly see the transition with Android – they no longer present me with their technical capabilities, they have started to appeal to my intrinsic emotions with their advertisements. Mountain View is learning, and its learning fast.

Look at the names of their operating systems, they sound like something which you would eat in an ice cream parlor. The names of the various Android operating systems are Cupcake, Donut, Eclair, Froyo, Gingerbread, Honeycomb, Ice-cream Sandwich and Jelly Bean – sounds fun, doesn’t it ? Nothing remotely technical about it. It is probably a reflection of Apple’s mac operating systems – Leopard, Snow Leopard, Lion and Mountain Lion, nothing even remotely technical about it, now is there ? Sounds like an African safari expedition. It is the principle of appealing to our emotions and sense of entertainment – rather than same old boxy mobile phone and technical specifications. You don’t sell a Ferrari by citing its engine capacity do you, you sell it based on the fact that it has highest probability of getting you a date (diplomatically speaking).

They both are as dependent, as they are aspiring to be independent. Apple, in their quest to become more independent have made the courageous decision to exclude the best map software in the world (Google Maps), in their upcoming iPhone 5. They have decided to go with an inbuilt program for maps – the jury is out on that one. Apple have also gotten rid of the YouTube (Google owned) app in their latest upcoming iPhone. As just an icing on the cake – they both are involved in a massive lawsuit in court currently, where Apple hold Samsung culpable for duplicating their original ideas.

As far as the features that I enjoy most, I love the Apple’s center bottom home button as much as I enjoy the caps lock on Android. I prefer the Swype keyboard in Android to the auto-correct in Apple. There is no doubt I don’t like the bottom left button in Android that adds an additional layer of complexity to each webpage, when contrasted with the  sheer elegant simplicity of an iPhone.

Any way you look at this eight ball – we as technology consumers and connoisseurs,  have the most to gain in this heavy weight prizefight. It has all the familiar elements of a vintage rivalry – they compete for the same market and intend to reach out to the same consumers, they both lead the world in terms of technology development for the mobile market, they both don’t really like each other, but they feed off each other – to create their own success, they also reinvent (Steve uses a different term in this context) ideas from each other with ruthless disdain, they try and be independent of each other’s strengths, and most interestingly – they are less than ten miles away from each other. Its a ten minute drive to Cupertino from Mountain View, after all. But I get the feeling this is just the inception of a fourteen round heavyweight competition. We are just getting warmed up, right ? I only wish we had a certain Steven Paul Jobs to add to this theatric spectacle.

Tring Tring – Welcome to round one.