What is Blockchain

Are you curious about the underlying technology of Bitcoin and other crypto currencies? This blog explains that technology – blockchain – in plain English for new learners.

A blockchain is a structure that enables a digital ledger of data (a block) to be recorded, stored, and shared in a computer network environment. To process a transaction requested by a user, the network will validate the transaction, add the transaction to the current block of transactions, and chain the block into an existing blocks by hashing. Hashing means a computer generates a value from a string of text using a mathematical function. All access to the blockchain and controls are managed with software.

A blockchain network is composed of nodes that contain a complete record of all of the transactions that were ever recorded in that blockchain. The nodes are located throughout the network and can be operated by anyone who has access. For example, Bitcoin has a blockchain network with about 5,000 global nodes.

We often hear about blockchain in the context of digital currencies. However, its application is much broader than this alone.

For example, Chronicled, a San Francisco-based company, built the first IoT/Blockchain lab to help track the identities of fine art, consumer products, and luxury goods. An NFC chip with a unique identifier is embedded in a product. Blockchain is used to register the identifier and verify the legality of the product, so counterfeit goods won’t be able to pass this verification.

This is an attractive alternative to the current status quo of businesses having their own databases. Interactions between these databases are time consuming and require trusted third parties. For example, when we receive a check, we need to deposit it to a bank to transfer money from another bank into our account.  When businesses move their data to a blockchain, the deposit, withdrawal, and access are going to be directly handled between a consumer and a supplier, therefore, a trusted third party is not required anymore. Additionally, it is very difficult to change or remove data when it’s in a blockchain. Therefore a blockchain enables trusted data and facilitates transparency.

This fundamental change is going to disrupt many industries. Therefore, basic knowledge of blockchain is important for business leaders. Digest the information above and stay tuned for my next blog.

NFC – A Commodity of Apple’s

Near Field Communication (NFC) is a short-range wireless connectivity technology that makes use of interacting electromagnetic radio fields. It has been widely adopted by the public transportation sector, for applications such as the ORCA card in Seattle metro, the SmartTrip card in Washington DC metro, Oyster card in London’s tube, Leap card in Ireland and NFC coin in the Taipei Mass Rapid Transit.

Most of the Android phones have been NFC enabled since years ago. While Apple was busy filing and receiving NFC patents, the NFC ecosystem was anxiously waiting for Apple to adopt NFC in the last 5 years. With Apple’s endorsement, NFC’s adoption rate would have been much better.

In 2014, Apple finally provided an NFC solution for its mobile wallet with the release of Apple Pay for iPhone6/6+. It is very encouraging for the NFC ecosystem. However, other than Apple Pay, all other NFC functionalities have not been activated. Yes. I upgraded my iPhone to leverage Apple Pay at the time.

Three days ago, when people lined up in front of the Apple store to get iPhone8, I purchased a used iPhone 7.

Why? Apple adopted the NFC reader operation with iOS 11; only iPhone 7 and above can access the functionality. I was happy to get a discounted iPhone7, downloaded the gototabs app and was able to read an NFC tag successfully. That’s good, I suppose. At the same time, it’s a disappointing user experience.

I created that NFC tag four years ago to demonstrate Android NFC reader/writer operation. When I enabled NFC on an Android phone, I could tap and read the tag without any app. Using an app to read the same tag is definitely less an experience but the offer is significant since it enables 78+Million iPhone7 users to read NFC tags. Now it’s time to leverage NFC tags!

Obviously, NFC becomes a commodity that requires Apple’s customers to upgrade their iPhone to leverage each new offer. Would I have to upgrade my iPhone again when Apple enables NFC writer operation?

Note – This blog was published in linkedin in September 25, 2017

Mobile Payment – A Trend to Watch in 2017

Note: This post was originally posted in LinkedIn in January 18th, 2017.

The days of fumbling through a wallet, pocketbook, or purse at the check stand are coming to an end. Research and Markets reported that the global mobile wallet market is expected to reach $635 billion by 2020 from $113.5 billion in 2015 at the compound annual growth rate (GAGR) of 41.1%. Allied Market Research predicts that the global mobile payments market will reach 3,388 billion by 2022, growing at the CAGR of 33.4%.

This climbing trend will continue as mobile becomes more and more a part of our lives. Are you taking advantage of your mobile phone’s payment capabilities for your retail purchases? Do you know how? I will summarize the basics of Near Field Communication (NFC) mobile wallet in this post since we have a few options in the US market right now.

A mobile wallet enables you to use your mobile phone for making payments. During the set-up of a mobile wallet app, your credit card information is entered and saved to your mobile wallet. All you need to do at the check stand is open the app on your phone, tap or hold it against the cashier card reader, and your payment will be processed with the selected credit card.

The underlying technology enabling tap to pay is NFC – a short-range wireless connectivity technology that makes use of interacting electromagnetic radio fields. An NFC mobile wallet is composed of a few components: a mobile application (app), payment options (credit cards), an authentication method for user identification, and an NFC chip for wireless transmission or Host Card Emulation (HCE) software structure for an app to emulate a card and talk to an NFC card reader directly.

Currently, there are a few mobile payment apps as follows:

Apple Pay is a NFC mobile wallet app provided by Apple launched in October 2014. It works with the iPhone 6, iPhone 6+, iPhone sequential releases, and even the iWatch. An NFC chip is embedded in the Apple devices to enable the Apple Pay tapping and paying.

Samsung Pay was released in August 2015. Not only does it work with NFC, Samsung phones are also equipped with Mobile Secure Transmission (MST) technology that emulates a swipe transaction through the swipe reader in case the reader is not NFC enabled, broadening the purchasing power of your mobile device. Samsung also plans to release Samsung Pay Mini in early 2017, which could also allow non-Galaxy devices to benefit from Samsung Pay. However this may exclude integration with Apple devices, as Apple store rejected Samsung Pay app in December 2016.

Android Pay, a Google Wallet, was released in September 2015. It works with all NFC-enabled Android devices running KitKat 4.4 and above. Android Pay uses Host Card Emulation (HCE) technology to interact with NFC payment terminals.

Microsoft Wallet is available in Microsoft insider. Windows 10 for phones support Host Card Emulation (HCE). HCE will allow any smartphone with Windows 10 and NFC hardware to transmit payments from the device to an NFC terminal designed to receive that money but without needing a special secure app like Softcard. It also won’t require any secure SIMs from wireless carriers.

In October 2015, US banks and processing networks implemented Fraud Lability Shift. Almost all credit card readers were replaced with EMV compliant readers. EMV (Europay, MasterCard and Visa) is a global standard for credit cards that uses computer chips to authenticate chip-card transactions. Most the EMV-compliant credit card readers (Point of Sale) are also NFC-enabled. This transition significantly expands the potential for widespread NFC mobile payment adoption.

In addition to this, more education and incentives are rolling out to encourage consumers to use mobile payment. For example, the number of daily Samsung Pay users has doubled every week since the launch of Samsung Rewards in the US in November 2016. Likewise, consumers are rewarded if they pay with Apple Pay at participating 300,000 self-serving cashless vending machine.

Will 2017 be the year that Mobile Wallets really take off? Will you be ready for this new era of purchasing?

Will Wearable Help Manage Our Lives?

** This blog was originally posted at LinkedIn January 29, 2016.

Many of us count on our mobile phones to track daily tasks and make connections.  I don’t think I could operate as efficiently if I don’t have one.  During this last holiday session, I got an Apple Watch as a gift. I was not sure it would be a useful tool for me. After wearing my Apple Watch for a month, I have a new realization – wearable technology will help manage our lives even more than mobile phones.

With Apple Watch’s alerts, I stand up when I am reminded. I answer a call without having to fumble in my purse for my phone. I see texts coming in and am able to reply via voice. I work out and know exactly how many calories are burned. I can also listen to music without my phone.

My daughter brings Apple Watch usage to the next level. She uses it to control her iPhone for taking family pictures, and its workout tracker and pedometer function integrates easily into her existing health and fitness apps. I am starting to wonder why anyone would ever return to wearing a watch that ONLY tells time.

Apple watch utilizes a near field communication (NFC) chip which can also be used to make mobile payments.  This function opens up the mobile payment world to iPhone5 users even though their phones are not NFC-enabled.  However, awkwardly positioning your wrist over a reader in order to enable the payment does take some getting used to.

Apple Watch interacts with iPhone through Bluetooth which transmit data within 32 feet. Thus, this range is roughly how far you can leave your iPhone away from the Apple Watch. Although the watch loses a lot of its functionality when it gets too far from my iPhone, it is still convenient not being entirely glued to my phone.

Do you use wearables? What are your insights about them? paring

TechEd and WWDC reflection

Last week the TechEd North America conference was held in New Orleans and new features for Windows 8.1 were presented. One of these new features is called tap-to-pair printing. When you put an NFC tag on an enterprise network printer, you can tap your Windows 8.1 device within 4 cm of the printer in order to establish connectivity so that you are able to print. There is no need to look for a correct printer on the network. Enterprise printing is made easy! This is a good demonstration of an NFC use case.

This week, iOS 7.0 was announced in Apple’s Developer conference. Nothing was mentioned about NFC. It makes me wonder about Apple’s NFC business strategy. When I attended the App World in London last October, vendors were already making iPhone 4 NFC sleeves in order to test mobile payments. Will the peripheral device becomes a trend for the iPhone, when Apple does not make an NFC enabled device? What are the risks and opportunities for the peripheral device makers that are investing in the NFC iPhone capability?

Yesterday Microsoft released a free app that will enable Office 365 for the iPhone. After the app is downloaded, you need to subscribe to Cloud based Office 365. That’s an up sell for iPhone users to adopt Office 365. It looks like the Microsoft business strategy is to generate revenue from the subscription model and extend the user base beyond the traditional Windows user. Tapping into the iPhone market seems to be a profitable path. Do you think NFC vendors should be committed to step into the similar path and offer iPhone NFC capability?

Apple’s NFC Patent

A patent was issued by the US Patent and Trademark Office to Apple on June 4th, 2013.  The patent “System and method for simplified data transfer” was filed on June 8th, 2008.

Near Field Communication was in the summary of the patent as follows:
“A method of performing the simplified data transfer may include initiating communication using near field communication (NFC) between two devices. Next, data associated with open applications on one of the two devices may be saved and then transferred to the other. Transferring the data may take place using a peer-to-peer connection other than via NFC. “

In the current market, many newer mobile phones have NFC capability. Koichi Tagawa, NFC Forum chairman, presented The Worldview of NFC to the NFC Solutions Summit last month. He pointed out that the fast moving tablet segment is adopting NFC. ABI Research expects that 285 million NFC enabled devices will be shipped in 2013 [1].

Interestingly enough, since so many mobile devices that have NFC capability are in the market, Apple has not yet indicated their intention to adopt NFC into its lineup. The patent for NFC simplified data transfer gives Apple an incredible competitive advantage when they adopt the NFC technology and mobile apps are being developed.

[1] : http://www.abiresearch.com/press/nfc-will-come-out-of-the-trial-phase-in-2013-as-28

What Is NFC?

nfcpic

Field Communication(NFC) technology, an RFID based short range (up to 4cm) wireless connectivity will impact our everyday life when adoption rate goes up.

This blog is created to facilitate the discussion and support the early adopters.

Please see my other NFC blog posts:

NFC Security Discussion in the NFC Solution Summit 2013

NFC Summit Solutions 2013

Driving NFC User Experience At The WIMA NFC USA Conference