When I first moved to Finland three years ago, I remember seeing a Coke machine at the university that accepted payments over the phone. All you had to do was call up the phone number, type in the machine's ID, and then the machine was credited and you'd find the slightly more expensive coke on your phone bill. I thought it was pretty cool and I mentioned it to my Finnish friend in passing, and the response I got was something like "Yeah, I think we've had that since the 90's."
It seems like Finland and the rest of the Nordic and Baltic countries are ahead of the curve when it comes to mobile payments being accepted in society, but there still is a long way to go before I can stop carrying my wallet around. There's a lot of companies to take a look at, so here are a few that have come up on our radar.
Accumulate out of Sweden, recently came out with several announcements worth noting. The company is building a mobile financial services platform, called Mobile Everywhere, and just announced a new mobile wallet service that will be available to 97% of all mobile phone users in Sweden. The mobile wallet venture, dubbed WyWallet, has been put together in conjunction with the four largest mobile network operators in Sweden, including Telia, Tele2, Telenor and 3.
The platform is technology agnostic, so any pairing technology used at a payment transaction is supported, like NFC built-in mobile, RFID, Accumulate OTT, QR- and bar codes, etc. Also, a mobile payment service based on the Accumulate platform support all payment situations and more; POS, online, person-to-person, man-to-machine (ex. vending, mParking), in-app purchase, remittance, and so on. The company points out that several Samsung phones offer NFC already, and the Nokia Windows 8 phones will also support the technology.
In December Accumulate ran a NFC beta test in Stockholm for Paypal at two retailers using passive NFC stickers, and their focus on NFC seems to support that they thing it's a good step forward. It is unclear what Accumulate's relationship is with Paypal at this day, considering they are building their own mobile wallet platform.
This mobile wallet system also plugs into Accumulate's mobile merchant app that requires no special hardware or additions, and can run on any Android, iPhone and iPad. Purchases through the system are made as a money transfer and are authenticated by Accumulate's One-Time-Tickets. The mobile merchant app is in their strategy to plug into all mobile payment solutions, from point of sale situations, online payments, and man-to-machine payments.
mCASH out of Norway is another mobile payments provider worth keeping an eye on. In June, their Facebook page gives this news:
mCASH is being made available in the Point Of Sale Software offered by Lindbak Retail Systems. Lindbak is one of the leading providers of POS solutions in Norway and Sweden. Lindbak is implementing the full range of mCASH technologies enabling their customers to tap into features such as mCASH Payments, electronic receipts, loyalty, business intelligence and more.
Thus mCASH is available to Merchants such as XXL Sport, G Sport, InterSport, Deli De Luca, Coop, Vinmonopolet. Just to mention a few.
Their iPhone app is currently in beta testing. We covered them last November, but I get the impression that they have cut down a number of their features to focus on their core product.
Here's another Norwegian company we gave some coverage to way back in 2009, but is still alive and kicking. MobileAxept was founded in 2003 and provides a SMS based payment solution for retail and donations. Users must first register with MobileAxept, either online or by text, and then further payments can be accepted by text message. The company takes a 3% cut of transactions.
Judging from their website, they seem to be getting most of their traction on the donation front, with a good couple churches in the United States using it as a method to accept offerings. I suppose now it's no longer in bad taste to pull out your phone during services.
In Estonia, ERPLY, the provider of a cloud-based POS system, has partnered with Paypal to integrate mobile payments into its system. Consumers wishing to use the payment method will need to download the PayPal iPhone app. The solution allows customers to simply "check in" to a store when entering, then pay with Paypal at the checkout counter.
The solution also gives the opportunity to run different services, like customized offers and loyalty programs. The checkout process only requires the cashier to match the name and photo of a customer, which will likely give a quick transaction at the register. Funds are then made instantly available in the retailer’s PayPal account.
This Lithuanian startup seems to have a pretty solid penetration in their home country already. Mokipay uses a sticker with a Near Field Communication (NFC) chip that attaches to the back of a smart or dumb phone, which can be read by a Mokipay reader. Payments can be accepted in 150 places in Vilnius, and 70 locations in Kaunas, with many more spread out across Lithuania.
For smartphones, Mokipay functions as a mobile wallet and a loyalty card for services of partners. They are also developing the app to act an access control card (to enter buildings using NFC), an e-ticket for public transport, a city guide, and a budget management tool. Their about page says the functionality of Mokipay service is being constantly expanded. Our past coverage goes into more detail about the service.
The Lithuanian social network targeted at feature phones is also experimenting with payments these days. Eskimi has seen the majority of its users come from Africa, mostly from Nigeria. The country is still experiencing rapid inflation, and the government has been seriously promoting alternative payment solutions to reduce the demand of printed money, which is difficult and costly to continuously reprint and update.
Eskimi has now partnered with Mobile Money operators in Nigeria by helping them with user acquisition. It will be interesting to see how they expand on this front, as social networks can easily provide the user base and platform for payments. In our last Unfair Advantage episode, we talked to CEO Vytas Paukštys of Eskimi about this in more detail.
It appears two Finnish inventors, Janne Aaltonen and Sami Saru of Turku Finland, have sold their mobile wallet patent to Apple recently. The system allows for both payment and issuance of coupons, vouchers, or credits. This well written Quora post is worth taking a look at if you're interested getting some insight to what Apple may be working on.
Mobile payments seem to incur higher transaction costs through these startups, but retailers get the benefit of taking on promotions and better tracking and insight on their customers. Ultimately, for consumers these mobile payment systems have to prove themselves to be faster and easier than credit cards and cash, otherwise what's the real benefit aside from the occasional coupon or discount?
Everyone likes carrying a credit card around because now you can walk around without cash, but I think these mobile wallets will have a hard time replacing cards and cash until battery life is severely increased on smartphones. My iPhone lasts well under a day with moderate use, and currently I get anxious enough as is when my battery life drops below 30%. I can't imagine relying on my phone for buying food when my wallet can just turn itself off.
That being said, it's inevitable some sort of mobile payment solution will eventually become standard, and perhaps we're seeing it in its infancy right now in the Nordics and Baltics.
Top image by whiteafrican on Flickr
The Swedish Consumer Agency is considering leading an investigation into Apple's marketing of the iPad after receiving complaints that the advertised 4G connectivity will not actually function in Sweden. The new iPad has been advertised as iPad Wi-Fi + 4G, but in many markets but critics say that the 4G technology is not an applicable feature due to the differences in the 4G spectrum across countries.
Remember our coverage of rumors on the iPad HD launch where we wondered if Apple's new device would include Senseg's haptic feedback technology? Well in recent news, Apple has filed a patent for a haptic feedback system that differs from Senseg's patented technology, suggesting that they may not go with the Finnish company's tech. Apple's proposed method for providing haptic feedback would also allow the device to judge the force of a button press. The touchscreen would include a "haptic feedback layer" that could include piezoelectric actuators aligned in a grid pattern.
At 10am PST today, Apple is hosting an event in San Fransisco expecting to provide some information about their new tablet, the "iPad 3", if you will. The new tablet is expected to boast a 2048×1536 resolution "retina display" screen like that used on the iPhone 4, where the pixel density is so great that Apple says individual pixels cannot be distinguished.
But the invite to the event (image shown above) also alludes to haptics technology, which The Guardian uses to predict that Apple has picked Helsinki-based Senseg's technology to power tactile feedback on the screen of the new device. And according to analysts interviewed by the Guardian, they're expecting to see more than just the high definition display.
The Wooden Labyrinth 3D was one of the more popular Finnish mobile apps before the arrival of Angry Birds from Rovio. To this date, Wooden Labyrinth has been downloaded some 10+ million times. The app was developed in 2009 by Elias Pietilä in February 2009. We've covered Elias Pietilä before when he ran into problems with a game called Pajazzo with the Finnish Moneygaming Association (RAY). We talked to Pietilä about the success of the game.
Since the launching of the game, it has generated a couple of hundred thousand euros for Pietilä. In the beginning of 2009 the game was immediately being sold for a few hundred euros a day. After giving out the free version of the game, the paid version improved sales as well.
BrowserTexting is a new startup from Denmark, which enables in a similarly named online service, users to send and receive SMS's from their browser. All you need at this moment is an Android phone to take advantage of the service. The company states that there are no limits on how many messages you can send and also, to how many people - which unfortunately might make it appealing for spammers. Nevertheless, it has interesting features such as the possibility to send group SMS's.
Apple and Nokia have settled their licensing disputes, the companies have stated. According to the agreement, Apple will pay Nokia a one-time payment as well as on going licensing fees. "We are very pleased to have Apple join the growing number of Nokia licensees," said Stephen Elop. "This settlement demonstrates Nokia's industry leading patent portfolio and enables us to focus on further licensing opportunities in the mobile communications market."
PhotoPoll is a new iOS application being developed by Nils Forsblom, one of our speakers coming to Arctic15 in September. The idea is really simple and appealing: you can create quick polls for your friends to comment with the help of images. Furthermore, if you're a bit more open with your privacy, anyone in the application can comment on your polls.
We had a brief chat with Mikko Hyppönen, the Chief Research Officer of F-Secure, the Finland based online security company. As he's one of the most vocal representatives of F-Secure online, we wanted to ask him how he feels about the startup potential in online security space. While there are a few really good and interesting companies around, he mentioned that overall there are surprisingly few companies working with online security.
Spotify has taken a major step forward today with the announcment of their new feature to enable iPod syncing. Previously, the company has enabled mobile syncing to only premium customers, but today - that too is being opened up to everybody. However, it isn't quite what you're expecting. Spotify mobile opening up to everybody basically means that you're able to use the mobile application to play your own MP3-files and sync them to the application from your computer. Nevertheless, this is a big step forward for Spotify in being the "one-music-application to rule them all".
Amazon has joined the Android app race with their own store in the US, according All Things Digital. The store isn't available at least in Finland and an attempt to access it simply redirects one to the Amazon front page. Amazon is claiming that since it's a retailer already, it can do a better job in selling apps than Google itself. For developers, it adds fragmentation as there are now at least three sites one has to be present in if you want to reach the masses, The Google Android Market, Amazon App Store and the Baltics originated GetJar.
Rdio, the online music straming company founded by the former Skype founders, Niklas Zennström and Janus Friis, has announced that they will be releasing a set of APIs to developers, according to ReadWriteWeb. This comes as an attempt to try and go around Apple's counter announcement of them charging 30% of new subscribers that will come through their iPhone apps, a move which has been widely criticized for "killing the online music business". Margins are very low and online streaming services such as Rdio (and Spotify for that matter) are scrambling to find new ways to keep the business model afloat.
TicBits is a Finland based iOS developer that has released the successful iAssociate 2 brain game. You may have not heard of it, but it's become very successful over on the other side of the pond. ABC has featured the game in their Good Morning America show as a brain sharpening game last summer.
Zokem is a Finnish based market leader in the next-generation mobile analytics, providing its patented products to the leading players of mobile and media industries. Earlier today Zokem released an interesting report on how the various smartphones and operating systems perform in the US market. The gist of which clearly puts the likes of older Windows Mobile phones and the Symbian devices to have lost the battle in the US. Which isn’t surprising as users in the region have migrated quite quickly towards the iPhone, Android and the BlackBerry.
One of the reasons we like working with companies such as Nexit Ventures is that they offer a ton of quality material to us that would previously be available for only the selected few. This time, we'll be taking a closer look at the M&A activity geographically on a more closer level. You should also read our articles in this series Why Being Sold To The US Is A Big Deal and So Who's Doing The Shopping In The US? The Big Eleven.
Powerkiss have not released much news this year. Apart from a feature in VentureBeat in June and a mention in connection with The Europas competition, we have not heard much about the company. Just this month, however, they've been pushing out news stories like crazy. First we hear that they've partnered with Wayne's Coffee in Sweden and Finland. The coffeeshop chain's guests can now (in limited locations) ask for a Powerkiss wireless ring from the counter, plug it into their phone, put onto the Powerkiss-enabled table and recharge it during their stay. Next we hear that Powerkiss is the official wire-free provider for Santa in China. That's right: Santa Clause foundation has been hosting showrooms in China to promote Santa and other Finnish exports and Powerkiss has been one of those products. Last but not least, Powerkiss' wireless charger has been officially approved as an Apple accessory. Charging an iPhone/iPod next to you soon! Apart from all the glitz, the case of Powerkiss poses some interesting questions.
When we think privacy concerns what usually comes to mind is either Facebook with their messy and ever-changing privacy policies or Google with their vast amounts of user data from the many services they offer. However, a recent study by Wall Street Journal revealed that mobile apps pose a bigger threat than previously thought. Out of 101 most popular mobile apps tested, about half sent unsolicited private data, like your location, email, gender, age, your phones identifiers and in some cases even ethnicity and sexual orientation to outsiders, usually ad networks. Those networks are in the business of passing on that data to advertisers who can target more and more precisely their potential demographic. (Un)surprisingly, the biggest online ad networks are Google, Facebook and Apple - the very same companies that provide platforms for the apps.
Angry Birds phenomenon is through the roof again. Yesterday, Rovio released Angry Birds Seasons, which is the new and awaited Christmas edition of the game. It is also available as a free update for those players who bought the Angry Birds Halloween edition. The game is now available in the iTunes store as well as for the Android platform over here.
Internet Apps And Native Apps: Why Neither Is Going Away, But The Coming Years Will See A Tremendous Power Shift
People love a good story, no matter what form of content it is they're consuming. Journalists, especially those who cover the technology industry, like to apply the same elements that make up an attractive narrative to their writing, so what most people get today is a tale of two or three competitors, the hurdles they have to overcome to deliver the solution they've envisioned and marketed, and then the demise of the one who couldn't execute properly. No matter how enticing it may be to remove the complexity of the battle for consumer's hearts, minds and wallets in order to make the story easily digestible, reality is often quite different. Take for instance the current obsession with mobile applications and how they're going to eclipse the internet as the delivery platform of choice for services and software.
In our last post in the Nexit Ventures supported series we covered "why being sold to the US is a big deal". This time round we cover the companis and the M&A activity in more detail. Basically, there are eleven large companies who do the majority of the buying. These companies are Apple, Cisco, Dell, EMC, Google, HP, IBM, Intel, Microsoft, Oracle and Qualcomm.
The big eleven are called the big eleven for the reason that their size and cash reserves enable them to do the majority of the acquisition activity in the States. There are a few key things that entrepreneurs should understand when looking at the M&A activity in the states.
CNET ran an article on Spotify and its troubles of setting up business in the US. Many believe it's the stubbornness of the record companies that have slowed them down to a halt almost. However, the CNET article states that Apple maybe protecting its iTunes Store from Spotify and talking with record labels to think twice about the ad-supported model. According to the CNet article, Apple executives are worried about the effects of a free music service might have on the rest of the market.
Is Apple about to buy the Sweden based Polar Rose? It seems so if there's any believing in the new released earlier today by Computer Sweden. Polar Rose is developing solutions in the area of computer vision technology.
People with iPhones may have bumped into a game called Angry Birds. Why am I so sure about this? Well, Angry Birds have reached the #1 position of Paid Apps in tens of different countries. 61 to be exact. That's a figure that hardly should go unnoticed. Their most recent measure of triumph is from the MacWorld Awards, where they won first place for the Best iPhone Entertainment & Lifestyle App. Angry Birds has been created by Rovio, a Finnish startup.
Distimo, an app store analytics company, has released their data for April regarding the Apple App Store. This is of interest as it is the first time since they report on the iPad App sales and how they do compared to iPhone sales. Also, the number of iPad applications in the App Store has increased dramatically in the last two weeks of April. On April 12th there were 2654 iPad apps while two weeks later, on April 26th there were 3437 apps resulting in a 30% increase.
The most important information from the report, however, is that on average iPad apps sell at a higher price than iPhone applications. On average, an application for the iPhone in the App Store costs $3.82 while an application for the iPad costs $4.67. iPad apps sell at almost 22,2% higher prices than iPhone apps. This of course could still be a result of the fact that there aren't all that many iPad apps even though we're talking about thousands of them. At the moment there are over 184 000 iPhone apps available.
Erply has come up with an innovative way to harness the mobility of the iPad. Erply is an Estonian company, who just last month raised 2 million dollars in funding and is trying to create an appealing solution to the sales, inventory and CRM challenges of retail SMEs.
Some time ago, Erply announced iPOS, which is essentially the ERPLY solution running on the iPad. They have a demo landing page up for the service, but it is enough to intrigue me into writing a story about it. I think this is one of the best B2B solutions/ideas out there for iPad.
Apple will be the talk of the town in mobile advertising this year. Last week at Apple’s OS 4 event, Jobs presented what advertising industry has been asking from mobile: iAd - the engagement media with scale and quality.
For brands, mobile advertising has had a big promise but no breakthrough: digital media and technology companies trying to fit the traditional online advertising model - mainly display and search - into mobile have not taken off. Mobile media is different to online: being based on communications and quick tasks one performs, not browsing, mobile requires different user experience. Running banners on mobile is like running radio ads on tv.
Those following the mobile gaming industry paid notice that the Finnish gaming studio Universomo was shut down (in Finnish) by its owner THQ Wireless, which acquired the Finnish firm back in 2007. Rumors started to spread on Tuesday this week and pretty soon THQ confirmed the liquidation of the studio. This is part of a bigger shift in the game industry.
While much of the attention at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona is on new handsets and software, Suntrica from Finland silently announced that they got their Solar Strap approved by Apple. Their new Solar Strap, which comes now in four nice colours and got even lighter, is working with the iPhone 3G and 3 GS, as well as the iPod Touch, Classic and Nano. This is a great opportunity for all the Apple fans to charge their iPhones and iPods while away from an outlet, be it in the city or hiking.
For those who don't have an iPhone or iPod but are looking for an environmentally friendly way to load their phones and gadgets, Suntrica still has the normal SolarStrap which is compatible with a range of phones, and also can be loaded up via USB for those rainy days and carried as a backup. Finally, the company is also helping out the people in Haiti, as relief workers are powering their mobile phones with Suntrica chargers - a great sign that they are not only interested in profits, but also in the well being of other people.
ArcticIndex, our directory for Nordic and Baltic startups, people, startup jobs and events, just got iPhoned. ArcticIndex iPhone app is developed by Arun Prakash Rajendran, a passionate mobile entrepreneur living in Göteborg, Sweden. You can check out the App at Prakash's app gallery, or get it directly here.
I have used the app for couple of days now and love the ease I can check out the new events listings. Similarly, if you're looking for a startup to join its a whim to check out the latest jobs at ArcticIndex and see what the company is all about from the Index.
We will introduce more features for ArcticIndex soon, so make sure you have your iPhone App ready when that happens.
As the region's reigning consumer web champion, there can never be enough stories about Spotify. And since today they've released a verison for Android and some new user & track figures, it's a good time as any to wonder what the future might hold for them. Especially in light of Apple's recent acquisition of US based La La Media. Caught on tape at Le Web, Spotify "Consigliere" Shakil Khan announced that they now have 7 million users in 6 countries choosing from 6.5 million tracks and listening for an average of 80-90 minutes per user.
When asked the million billion dollar question about when the service will launch in the US, Khan reiterated the 1Q10 time frame that has been given before. Interestingly, he also said that one of the main delays has been setting up a corporate infrastructure in the US including "business licences and visas," as well as operations and ad sales teams in Los Angeles, San Francisco, and New York. Spotify has used this type of careful building since the beginning, and it is a credit to they way that they think about user experience, considering problems that would result from not being fully prepared as a degradation to the end service. However, with attitudes towards the non-ownership model changing rapidly, there will be an element of first-mover advantage to whomever can launch an insanely great streaming service in the US, and even more so if that first-mover happens to be called Apple. Will Spotify be dead-on-arrival in the US if Apple launches an iTunes streaming service before they're ready?