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A sexy new way to pay

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Forget PayPal, what you really need is — at least as The Register in the UK quaintly puts it — "pay by bonk". Using the system, you knock your smartphone against another smartphone or device in a store to transfer funds from one account to another. A new payment system is also being planned at Apple, who wants to lead the near field communications (NFC) race. It will no doubt heavily feature the iTunes store (i.e. you pay money into your iTunes account and then use that to purchase items in the real world). This could essentially work like an iTunes-based debit card. Remember, however, that these NFC payment systems are also subject to those of a more unsavoury nature passing close to you and grabbing some cash for themselves. It is early days yet, but I expect that this will turn into a real issue. As for me, I bought myself a woven stainless steel wallet that acts as a Faraday cage. You could also just wrap it in tin foil, I suppose. 

It looks like Apple has encouraged Google and Samsung to sign a cross-licensing agreement for their technology over the next 10 years to put up a strong front against their fruity competitor. What has become known as the Great Patent Wars have cost both sides in often frivolous cases concerning items such as rounded corners, something that has existed since the days of the cavemen. The statement from Dr Seungho Ahn, head of Samsung's Intellectual Property Centre, that "Samsung and Google are showing the rest of the industry that there is more to gain from cooperating than engaging in unnecessary patent disputes". In related news, Samsung also signed a deal with Ericsson, ending their dispute and allowing patent and technology sharing with a company that has a lot to offer.

Skype is still the worst Android app I use. It is slow, often ignores "dismiss" or "back out" commands, takes up a large amount of processing power and doesn't always work, even when you've paid.

Struggling Blackberry has a new version of its operating system. Based on the numbering, it looks like a tiny incremental release, but it now runs Android apps much faster. It also supports the now standard "pinch-to-zoom" function most of us have had for a few years. Overall it is a big improvement. How much it will help the flagging brand remains to be seen.

According to research firm Kantar Worldpanel, Android made gains at the end of 2013 in Europe and most of the US over iOS and Windows Phone. Apple took the biggest hit with Microsoft also making some gains at their expense. Apple is still doing well in the US, Japan and China, so their overall shipments still look OK. And because their units are expensive, profits are also still good. I think 2014 will be an interesting year — I want to see how the Galaxy S5 impacts sales on the yet-to-be-announced new iPhone model.

In related news, according to the International Data Corporation, mankind managed to produce 1.8 billion mobile phones last year. Just over a billion of these were classified as smartphones. This is more than double the amount produced in 2012. As you might expect, Samsung topped the list. Apple took second place, with about half the volume. The next three spots were Huawei, LG and Lenovo. Note that Sony, HTC, Nokia and ZTE were not in the top five. Lenovo could crack third place this year and ZTE is not all that far behind. Apple will be the one to watch in China, but it is the under-$150 (5,000 baht) units that are the biggest growth drivers in the development world.

If you are sick of monochrome 3D printing and have more money than you know what to do with, the new Object500 Connex3 from Stratos could be what you are looking for. You get up to 46 colours in a single prototype, ranging from true black through the whole spectrum. The unit also supports multiple material types including rubber-like parts, allowing for two or three kinds of materials to be mixed in a single print. The price at the moment is around $330,000 which is still inexpensive for those wanting to try prototypes. Like most things in the IT world, give it a few years and we'll all have one.

HP has won another case against manufacturers of compatible ink cartridges in Germany and Poland. The company has actively ensured that its customers pay higher prices for replacements. So far this has not been much of an issue in Asia, and I suspect that local manufacturers will be safe for a while yet.

Finally, in science news, according to Stephen Hawking black holes may actually be more like grey holes, with a less-than-well-defined event horizon. Yes, they still suck up stars and galaxies.


James Hein is an IT professional of over 30 years' standing. You can contact him at jclhein@gmail.com

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