Google Cancels Its Pre-Paid Credit Card, Drops The Project

Google said today that it's completely cancelling its pre-paid credit card, citing the success of its cloudy alternative and admitting that when in comes to making payments, no one wants to bank with its curiously called 'Chocolate Factory'.

To be sure, Google's pre-paid card will stop accepting credit on October 17, 2012. After that date, there will be a monthly charge of $2.00 in order to 'bleed out' remaining credits, or at least to encourage users to spend it.

Users were previously only charged the $2.00 fee if they failed to use the card for three months. This will now be reduced to a month to ensure the card disappears in a reasonable timeframe.

Backed by MasterCard, Google's pre-paid card is one of only two which could be embedded in the company's still-US-only electronic wallet. The other is from Citibank.

But in mid-August, Google's so-called 'Chocolate Factory' announced a cloud-based alternative which could work with any credit card, negating the need for local apps embedded in the smartphone, and we're asked to believe that it is the success of that scheme which has prompted Google's decision to cancel the card.The new concept works by storing credit card details from any card in Google's cloud. The user then makes pay-by-tap payments using his or her Google-Wallet-equipped phone and the balance is deducted from the credit card when a data connection is available.

To maintain the speed, payments aren't authenticated online immediately, so Google takes a small risk of the credit not being there, but since payments are limited to just $25, the risk is limited and offset by the convenience for the user.

But it wasn't supposed to be like that! NFC payments rely on credit card applications embedded in the device's secure element, so they don't need to go online. And an NFC payment is possible to be made even if the device battery is dead, though for the moment Google is insisting on PIN entry every time, so power IS needed.

However, and even as good as Google is, it has had a really tough time convincing banks to create local apps for its secure element, which has driven its creation of the cloud-based alternative in the first place.

For now, it's still unlikely that an alternative has really gained any users yet, but it's an extremely interesting model which challenges many of the assumptions on which NFC businesses are being built.

In other mobile news :

If Nokia wants to get a small piece of the action in this very competitive segment of the wireless industry, it will have to prove some market analysts that they were wrong to begin with.

Nokia actually showcased two new and surprisingly good smartphones in New York this week, but a whole slew of experts largely didn't agree. However, all is not lost for the struggling handset maker. Some market analysts, who typically act as a herd, are outnumbered by millions of consumers making very personal buying decisions.

But as with so many other things, conventional wisdom can be very slow to change direction. Before Nokia's New York event, most observers had a pre-prepared story that had already been sketched out on the flight: 'Can Nokia turn around?'

We are of the belief that just a handful of these so-called 'experts' actually used the features that might cause the market to shift in Nokia's favour. But Wireless Industry News had the opportunity to try the phones for real, and that's very different.

Actually, Nokia's two new Lumia devices have two great things going for them. In real life, buying decisions are a complicated mix of attraction and risk aversion. Minimizing risk when choosing to buy something - particularly a $1,000 purchase - is entirely rational. Well, for some people, anyway.

It simply means going with what your friends have and know, and making a measure of the company's reputation and commitment to the marketplace. The bulk of the individuals take all these factors into account, and there's no exception in the case of Nokia.

Attraction is finding a feature or two that is a true differentiator in this case, and which makes your new phone useful or fun to you personally. To this date, Windows Phones have failed to convince the mass market on both counts. A Windows Phone is somehow seen as a risky choice, despite its radical design.The OEMs (original equipment manufacturers) haven't yet shown us a Windows Phone with a killer feature. Microsoft's Windows Phone has sold off on the basis of the People Hub, and perhaps this has been oversold a bit. Well that's what we think, anyway.

The People Hub aggregation in the Windows Phone pays off if you are a heavy user of two of the three social networks it supports: LinkedIn, Facebook or Twitter.

If you are in that specific category, broadcasting across several networks, then Windows Phone is a great choice. But if you just use one predominantly, the appeal might fade somewhat, in which case you're better off with a dedicated app for that particular social network.

For instance, you can't try to view conversations easily or mark Favourite Tweets at all in the Windows Phone People Hub. You want a dedicated app for that. Microsoft may have overestimated the number of people who in reality use two social networks heavily, rather than mainly use one. Then again, they always try to overshoot themselves when unsure about something.

But the killer feature, or at least one unique feature, has arrived, nevertheless. Nokia has tried a few times to add several differentiators to the new Lumia devices and this actually apparent to us.

Wireless charging is one, tap-to-play-music is another. On display at the launch were dozens of a new JBL speaker that had been developed with Nokia, colour co-ordinated to match the new Lumias. Not only that, but the speakers actually charge the phones wirelessly, and play music wirelessly.

But the real stand-outs are two new imaging features. Both are strong and distinctive and useful enough to transcend the phone blogs and become 'pub repeaters' and conversation topics for their new owners.

One such feature involves lining up a photo or video while shaking the phone and then activating the image stablilisation button while continuing to shake the phone. The phone keeps moving, but the image in the viewfinder stops shaking.

The other show-off feature is the quality of lowlight photography on the new device, which is outstanding. The new phones take great pictures in near darkness without requiring a flash.

These may not be enough to dislodge repeat iPhone buyers who have invested in the Apple 'ecosystem', but nevertheless, it's still stiff competition for anything running Android today. And Nokia is no expection.

In other mobile news :

Apple is considering refreshing its third-generation iPad device to cut down on its weight and make other improvements, according to market research firm NPD Display Search.

The updated 9.7-inch Retina iPad would address some problems with the first-generation Retina device. That includes improving the LED backlight feature."We are seeing Apple work with LED display makers to come out with a display that enables a thinner overall product, and with longer battery life to boot," said Richard Shim, an analyst at Display Search.

"Of course the supply chain is very dynamic, we all know that, but we're still seeing some early indications that this may be happening," he added.

And because of the multiple vagaries of the supply chain -- made up of manufacturers and suppliers -- orders do get canceled, plans get changed often-- sometimes on a weekly basis, so managing all that isn't simple, even for an amazingly resourcefull company such as Apple.

On August 30, Display Search published a research note about the updated iPad Retina, which said "Apple is working with the LCD supply chain to refresh that display, including revising the LED backlight design for overall cost reduction, refining its thermal solution, cutting down on the weight by replacing some components, and fine tuning the panel transmittance for lower power consumption."

That would include using an IGZO display to reduce the display's thickness and heat, Shim added. Samsung would be a likely manufacturer, he said.

Raymond Soneira, founder and CEO of Display Mate Technologies said earlier this year that iPad Retina in its current form was actually Plan B for Apple.

Plan A was an iPad that didn't have the additional weight. While the Apple tablet's height and width remained the same, the thickness of the new iPad swelled slightly to 0.37 inch and the weight edged up to 1.44 pounds.

"There's no question that the iPad 3 is Plan B. They pushed amorphous silicon display tech to a higher pixels per inch than anybody else. But the light throughput isn't too good. So it has roughly twice as many LEDs, and they had to get a 70 percent larger battery," Soneira said previously, referring to the Retina iPad.If Apple goes forward with these revised production plans, about 7 million updated Retina iPads could be produced next month, according to NPD Display Search.

But it would also be an unusual move for Apple, which would typically wait a year to offer a successor to the iPad Retina, which was announced back in March of this year.

Display Search thinks that about 7 million units of third-generation iPads could be produced in October as 'New iPad + Refresh.'

Apple is also expected to bring out an iPad Mini later this fall that sports an IPS 7.85-inch display. Monthly production volume is slated to hit about 5 million in October.

Apple supply chain companies include Foxconn, Corning, Japan Display, LG Display, Sharp, AUO, Chimei Innolux, Samsung, Radiant, Coretronic, TPK, Wintek, and Toshiba.

In other mobile news :

Looking at the global big picture, you could say that Android may have topped Apple's iOS in terms of overall smartphone sales, but if the latest numbers from Google are to be believed, it certainly isn't making any headway among tablet users. That is, if you ignore Amazon's customers, as Google does.

From the company's viewing angle, the number of Android tablets in the market today is really small. According to statistics posted to the Android developer website, typical smartphones made up the vast majority of Android devices in utilization today during the seven-day period ending September 4, with about 86 percent reporting a screen diagonal size of between 3 and 5 inches.

In contrast, devices with screen diagonals between 4 and 7 inches represented just 6.5 percent of all Android devices in use during the same period, while devices with typical tablet screen sizes of 7 to 10 inches accounted for a paltry 4.7 percent.

And the versions of the Android operating system in use today were also revealing. Overall, Android 3.1 dubbed "Honeycomb",the version of the OS that the Chocolate Factory released exclusively for tablets, was found on only 2.1 percent of all devices.

Not even Google's well-regarded Nexus 7 device seems to have managed to jumpstart the Android tablet market. The Nexus 7 was one of the first devices to ship with Android 4.1 dubbed "Jelly Bean" installed, yet that version of the OS was found on just 1.2 percent of the total.

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