Thursday, November 29, 2012

deadmau5 at Nokia Lumia Switch Party

Yesterday evening Nokia hosted a Lumia #Switch Party at the Flat Iron Square in Southwark. The event celebrated the launch of the Lumia 920 and 820 Windows Phone 8 smartphones, and is a sequal to last year's mind blowing '4D' projection performance at the Millbank Tower in London.

That one

So how could Nokia and deadmau5 top last year's crazy display? Well they didn't, but then again, they didn't exactly have to. As this year's performance location was kept secret (the event was exclusive to Nokia staffs, competition winners and a few guests), it was billed as a more intimate event. The rather heavy handed approach by security did annoy us a little bit (the event was oversubscribed) and  it didn't help that no one knew exactly where they should be facing so everyone just pushed forward towards the Shard.

Sure, the effects did not blow our mind like last year's, but the music at least did. Using the surrounding buildings around Flat Iron Square as props and special effects for the gig, deadmau5's cracking performance matches the area perfectly. Props to Nokia for the invite and deadmau5 for an entertaining, if chilly, night.

You can find more pictures of deadmau5 on my flickr.

Motorola RAZR MAXX mini-review

The RAZR MAXX has been my main phone for almost three months now, and it is a cracker of a device. Right, on paper the phone is decidetly mid-range now, if not because of the massive 12.54Whr battery - which is still untouched in the industry - at least in the UK. It is a rather old device in smartphone terms but is perfectly usable for most people. Motorola has even since released a successor called the Droid RAZR MAXX HD, though this is limited to the American market for the time being.

What I love about the MAXX is its build quality. I am currently also carrying the Samsung Galaxy S III, and in comparison, the MAXX feels like a Rolls Royce where as the Samsung Galaxy S III's cheap'ish construction is more like a Toyota Yaris, albeit a soup'ed up turbo version. There's nothing wrong with that by itself, it is just that the MAXX feels luxurious and capable of taking a beating. Three months as my daily driver, the RAZR MAXX still looks new.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Gemalto NFC Contactless Challenge: Day Nine

The second to final day of my #GemaltoNFC Contactless Challenge revealed some unexpected results. The first was McDonalds, a fast food joint I would not normally visit expect I did so this morning because, you know, you kinda have to visit once to test their contactless machines. You can chalk that up as a fail though, as the machine simply failed to read the Samsung Galaxy S III, spurting out nonsensical messages like 'access denied' or 'merchant denied' or something to that effect.
Contactless not accepted here
A visit to the local Sainsbury's also yielded a negative feedback as they do not accept contactless, even on the self service machines. With many Waitrose, Tesco and Marks & Spencer stores now deploying contactless, Sainsbury's is well behind their rivals.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Gemalto NFC Contactless Challenge: Day Eight

After a week of almost using contactless exclusively as part of the #GemaltoNFC Contactless Challenge, I am comfortably leading Ewan 194-152. Ewan has jetted off to Barcelona, where he will be testing GSMA's favourite mobile city's NFC infrastructure. As for me, I am continuing my quest to uncover more shops that features contactless. Despite leading Ewan, I know he isn't one to give up easily. So do hit me up with more contactless challenges!
Monday was a fairly quiet affair as far as contactless went. Boots was my first port of call where I collected a bunch of photographs and developed film negatives (yes we still use those!). The pictures turned out okay (expired film, plastic lens and all), but it was the reaction of the cashier which was priceless. "I am an old lady, you won't see me ever using those! I am happy I could send texts and make phone calls!" was the reply when I implied NFC was the future!

Monday, November 26, 2012

Gemalto NFC Contactless Challenge: Day Six & Seven

It's been a week since me and Ewan of MobileIndustryReview started our Gemalto NFC Contactless Challenge. During the weekend I decided to take it slow, aiming to complete the remaining challenges at a leisurely pace as well as discovering new stores offering contactless. Four challenges remained: get a hair cut, groceries, watch a movie at a cinema and buy a round of drink - all of which I have to pay for using contactless payment.
On Saturday I truly believed I finally cracked one of the toughest challenges we have been set - the hair cut. As I walked into the Alternative Barbering Co. in St Albans, a sticker by the door proudly claims that PayPass (Mastercard's brand for contactless) is accepted. Well I was wrong, sort of. While getting my long overdue hair cut, I chatted with the owner who duly informed me that they once did, but not any longer. This is due to a number of factors including that the system was tied to Barclaycard and nobody used it. The PDQ terminal is still capable of accepting a contactless module, but until NFC payment becomes more widespread, it just doesn't seem worth it.
Still, St Albans isn't quite as contactless-free as I imagined. I sent a couple of pair of shoes to the cobblers at Timpson to fixed and they happily accepted my phone. I did have to split the bill first as the bill was well over the £20 limit. The Steamer Trading Cookshops also accepts contactless payment, though I can't imagine it being used a lot. It doesn't quite seem like the sort of store where a quick turnaround is required. The more the better I say.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Gemalto NFC Contactless Challenge: Day Five: Wallet-less

We are half way through Gemalto's NFC Contactless Challenge. I do hope my blog posts here chronicling the challenges has been helpful to anyone sitting on the contactless fence, and if you have any questions hit me up either here or on twitter using the #GemaltoNFC hashtag. The previous four days has been a rollercoaster ride. There has been bright moments when I saw nothing but a bright contactless future, and there are dark times when I thought it was dead.  Day five was no different.

For once the day started not with an NFC related disaster but my own stupidity. For probably the second time in my entire life, I forgot my wallet. Not only did I not have my debit card, I also did not have my Oystercard and cash! I did have some loose change in my pocket, but these weren't enough to last a whole day. I have gone through an entire day purely on contactless on Tuesday, but this was the first day I would not have a backup. I have to rely purely on the Samsung Galaxy S III phone Gemalto has loaned me, and the few loose change I had in my pocket.

I felt exposed, almost naked even.

Gemalto NFC Contactess Challenge: Take the Boat (Thames Clipper)

As a former now almost Londoner, I can categorily state that the best way to see London is through the local river bus service, the Thames Clipper. It is also my favourite method of traveling across London. The Thames Clipper operates between Embankment Pier and Woolwich Arsenal Pier, so if you live or work near one of the piers serviced on this route - I truly envy you. It would be a dream to move into a home just by the Thames.

The Thames Clipper is the only commuter service in Britain (that I know of) which offers commuters and tourists alike the ability to pay as you go via contactless payment. This is in addition to accepting contactless Oyster card and regular plastic payments just like on the regular Tube, Overground and London bus services. These contactless payments are only acceptable on-board the boats. Nobody at the ticket booths are equipped with the equipments necessary to process contactless payment.
The 'I am on a boat' moment
Well the important thing is you could pay on-board the boat, and the good news is I did complete my 'Take the Boat' Gemalto NFC Contactless Challenge this time. The bad news is I found the process far too slow compared to using a bog standard Oyster card. There has been calls for Transport for London to replace RFID Oyster card with regular contactless bankcards and after witnessing how slow it was to take payment, but I can't see that happening, ever. Not with the current technology at least. My attempt to pay today was twice declined by the bank, and once failed to go through because the mobile network was poor in the middle of the river. It only successfully went through on the fourth attempt, and only after the staff switched to a different terminal.

Now imagine this happening on the Tube.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Gemalto NFC Contactless Challenge: Day Four: A Day of Failures

I am so used to starting these NFC blog posts with the first fail of the day so for once I thought I would I would get right to the point. The first NFC fail today comes courtesy of Starbucks, the multi-national behemoth and purveyor of all things wrong with the multi-chain coffee industry. Starbucks has recently been in our headlines for all the wrong reasons, but that's not the purpose of this post. A quick search reveals that they have been deploying two new form of payments - Square in USA and NFC in the UK.

Personally I do not understand the significance of deploying Square at their stores as they already have dedicated payment terminals, and magnetic cards are inherently insecure, but that's just me. Then again I am not American, and I am digressing a bit here again. Anyway, after ordering a drink so complex there are actually guides online that teaches you how to do it, I attempted the pay. The store I visited does not in fact accept contactless payment, but you probably knew that already. That's £2 something I am never going to see again, but hei, it's all in the name of research!

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Gemalto NFC Contactless Challenge: Day Three: Catching Up

Day Three: London's Burning
It is day three of my Gemalto Contactless Challenge, and I have finally made up some lost ground and caught up with Ewan:

Ewan: 76 points
Me: 101 points

My first NFC fail of the day comes courtesy of YO! Sushi. You may remember me blogging about them on day one where I attempted to buy lunch from their branch at St Pancras International. Giving them another chance, I visited the branch just opposite of St Paul's Cathedral. This branch is listed on Barclaycard's list of venues that accept contactless payment.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Gemalto NFC Contactless Challenge: Day Two: Surviving an Entire Day on Contactless

I woke up to day two of the Gemalto Contactless Challenge, confident enough to start taking names. Okay, not really, but I was much more prepared than yesterday. Today my main task is to go the entire day only on contactless, meaning I will only be relying on the Gemalto issued Samsung Galaxy S3 for my breakfast, lunch, snacks, dinner and whatever else I require. Ewan was ahead and points were at stake. No more screw ups - I just have to get it right today!

Well no. The morning started with my quest to send Gemalto a postcard. I visited the Post Office on Farringdon Road and I immediately recognise the NFC card readers they have installed on the counters. Unfortunately for me and Gemalto, it appears that the postcards on display (and in fact every physical items sold in the store), can only be paid at the shop counter which is managed separately from the Post Office. This counter would only accept chip & pin, with a minimum of £5 spend. And the other Post Office in nearby Moorgate does not even sell postcards! Who would have thought sending a postcard in London would be so challenging? (In hindsight I was perhaps foolish for believing postcards would be widely available in none-touristy areas)

Irritated and hungry, I figured I could do with breakfast now, so I decided to pay my favourite coffee shops in Holborn a visit. The first was the delightfully name Department of Coffee & Social Affairs, part of the Coffeesmith chain of specialty coffee. Approaching as a 'researcher' again, I asked if they accept contactless. Despite the modern looking PDQ the barista was adamant they do not accept contactless payment.
Defeated once again I headed to Prufrock Coffee. The counter happened to be manned by World Barista Champion Gwilym Davies, who happens to be a London coffee hero to me (and many others). They acknowledged that they do accept contactless payments via cards, but not phones as they believed they required a different hardware to accept payments via phones. Still, I insisted on at least trying to pay via my phone and it worked!

Gemalto NFC Contactless Challenge: Become a Museum of London expert

Today I visited the Museum of London as part of the Gemalto Contactless Challenge to complete the 'Become a Museum of London expert' challenge. Our task here is to use NFC to learn about the exhibits. Believe it or not, despite living in or around London for close to a decade, I have not once visited it, so for me this visit is more than just testing out the NFC tags dotted around the museum.

It is about learning more about the history of my home, this amazing city Londontown. Every significant event that ever transpired in London, from prehistoric times before Londinium was even founded by the Romans to the Blitz of World War II to last year's Occupy London movement, are recorded here. It was a fascinating visit.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Gemalto NFC Contactless Challenge: Day One: Adjusting to life with contactless

Today is the first day of my Gemalto Contactless Challenge and I almost did not go contactless. It isn't so much as not wanting to go contactless, but being prevented to do so. Nevertheless, after a rocky start, I was soon swiping like a pro.

My typical day begins at St Albans. This is where I live. The main railway station is manned by First Capital Connect, also known as one of the worst railway network in Britain, but never mind that. Here, anyone who doesn't own a season ticket but wishes to go into London has to buy their tickets from either the few self service machines dotted around, which does not accept contactless payment yet. Mind you, with the daily peak time travelcard costing more than £20 so you wouldn't be able to pay using contactless anyway.

So I went to the counter and asked the gentleman behind if they accept contactless payment. Blank stares. Uhm, wireless payment, NFC etc.? What, he quipped? Finally, I whipped out the phone and waved it around the payment terminal (I will be doing this a lot this week). His facial expression changes from confusion to realisation - I guess he's probably seen one of those Galaxy S III ads - and with a firm 'No', that was that. 'Kay.
Sorry phone, no NFC here
Soko Coffee operates just outside platform four exit, which I use probably 99% of the time. It is an independent mobile coffee kiosk operated from a modified scooter fitted with an espresso machine. Oh, and they serve gorgeous coffee. Unfortunately they do not accept NFC payment. To be fair to Charlie (the owner), the amount of delays we experience at St Albans station meant that most of us who do bother to queue for Soko's amazing flat whites will have all the time in the world to fish for change.

Gemalto NFC Contactless Challenge begins now

It's here! As part of the Gemalto Contactless Challenge, a Samsung Galaxy S III was delivered to me yesterday preloaded with a Barclaycard app, and some spare cash.

From today, for a week and a half, me and Ewan of Mobile Industry Review will be competing against each other in a series of challenges. These challenges includes going through a whole day entirely on contactless, taking the Thames Clipper, buying flowers for the other half using NFC and visiting the Museum of London. We will also have to do a single challenge issued by our readers, so if you feel like sending us on a crazy quest, don't feel shy and let Gemalto know.

So, is wireless payment technology ready to take off in London? I guess we will find out soon enough. In the meantime, I will be providing updates on this blog as well as tweeting our conquests using the #GemaltoNFC hashtag on twitter.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Shoot! Existential Photography

Shoot! Existential Photography is a special exhibition at The Photographers' Gallery in Soho, London. It examines a popular attraction that appeared at fairgrounds around Europe after the first World War where people would attempt to win a photograph of themselves by shooting the centre of a target with an air gun. A successful bullseye will trigger a camera nearby. It's the ultimate in self portrait photography.

The exhibition inspects the number of artists, photographers and general public who celebrates this unique game. On display are works by the Swiss artist Rudolf Steiner. Steiner would literally shoot a picture of himself, with the bullet hole being the aperture of a pinhole camera, in a series called 'Pictures of Me, Shooting Myself Into A Picture'.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

In Defense of Instagram

St. Paul's from Bankside
This is a blog post I never thought I would ever write. Funny how a few months can make...

See, six months ago I was that guy on Twitter who did not get Instagram, even writing it off as a fad - a mistake that dear Mark Zuck would regret ever making. But after signing up a few months ago out of curiosity, it is now the second most used social network after Twitter. In fact, it will probably soon usurp Twitter as my favourite social network, what with Twitter clamping down on clients and other minor irritations. Proof, if you will, that one should never write things off completely or be closed minded.
Giant robots
It is actually not difficult to see how Instagram, once I had the guts to try it, easily won me over. Once I got over the initial urge to use the default and, more importantly, optional image filters, I've come to realised that if you approach Instagram as a social platform, it really isn't any different to Twitter. In fact Instagram is more or less Twitter for pictures. While Facebook and Twitter continues to grow bloated with features we never wanted, Instagram simply wins because of its ease of use and focus on visual communications.
Fcuk the Olympix

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

iZettle launches in the UK, hands-on

iZettle is an European startup specialising in providing small businesses an ability to use their smartphone as a conduit for allowing payments using a proprietary iZettle card reader. It's a concept aimed at providing small business and merchants the ability to charge customers without resorting to expensive solutions. This is similar to Square in US, only it's a bit more secure as it uses a chip solution rather than magnetic strip and is EMV approved. Yesterday, iZettle, alongside their partners at Mastercard, American Express and EE, announced their entry to the UK market.

According to iZettle, 50% of missed sales by merchants are due to their inability to accept plastic. This is true even in build-up areas in London - I can hardly remember how many restaurants and coffee shops I had to give a miss because there was a 'only cash' sign. There are a million card payment in the UK, but 12-15 million iOS devices plus a heck lot more Android smartphones, so this service will allow plastic payments for small businesses who would normally be unable to afford more expensive specialised solutions.

In terms of security, the iZettle is, on theory at least, more secure than Square as the reader is chip-based rather than magnetic. On the other hand, the iZettle solution isn't chip and pin enabled, which is technically a more secure method of making payment than chip and signature. Still, according to iZettle, apart from the UK and France, their core European market is more comfortable with chip and signature, and I know my father personally prefer chip and signature payments.
An Android iZettle terminal
At the iZettle launch in London yesterday, we were demonstrated by actual merchants who has been using the device for the past few months. Using it couldn't be any simpler, the merchant selects the items you have purchased, insert the card payment and after the app makes a secure wireless connection with the bank, remove the card and the customer is asked sign the screen. An email receipt (complete with geo tagging) will then be sent to the customer. In all it took about a minute from insertion of the card to confirmation message.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Distant Worlds: Final Fantasy 25th Anniversary Concert: London

The Royal Albert Hall hosted the first of this season's Distant Worlds: Final Fantasy orchestra, a worldwide event celebrating the 25th anniversary of the series. The first game was released in Japan on 18 December 1987 by Square on the Famicom (NES) platform, popularising the RPG genre. Since then, 13 main numbered games within the series has also been released, including various none-numbered spin-offs and sequels. The next game in the numbered series would be Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII and is a further sequel to Final Fantasy XIII.

It was a great evening, and I have always enjoyed concerts at the Royal Albert Hall. The famous Kensington venue, while traditional in architecture, seems apt for a wide range of performance styles and music genres. In fact, the last time we were there was last year for the BBC Radio 3's Big Red Nose Snow and, before that the Cirque Du Solei's Totem (thanks London Midland!) circus!

Friday, November 2, 2012

Science Museum Lates

Science Museum does a neat free event at the end of the month called the Science Museum (duh) Lates. It's an evening dedicated to all things entertainment and science. Best of all, it's adults only, meaning, no pesky things known as kids are allowed in. Rejoice!

We and a couple of friends decided to check out October's Science Museum Lates, which happened to coincide with Halloween. After braving the freezing October evening and large queues (who would know science would be so popular?), we got in all excited. In addition to the normal Science Museum stuffs, the day also hosted special science of alcohol events and lectures where visitors learned about this history of gin, sake tasting and brewing your own ginger beer.
It's not all just fun though, visitors also got to learn about how a typical Friday night is like for London ambulance crew having to deal with alcoholics who don't know when to quit. The resident IMAX theater also featured the Punk Science comedy routine behind the phenomenon known as beer goggles, but we sadly had to skip.