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May 17 2012

Commerce Weekly: Another mobile wallet is on the way

Here are a few stories from the commerce space that caught my attention this week.

Isis prepares its mobile wallet rollout

Isis-Mobile-Wallet.pngIsis Mobile Wallet had some big news this week. First, American Express officially got on board with the mobile payment platform. Damon Poeter at PCMag notes the announcement was something of a formality, as American Express joined the Isis Mobile Commerce Platform last year along with Visa, MasterCard, and Discover, but he writes: "... the credit card company did offer up specifics on which member accounts will be eligible for the Isis Mobile Wallet — namely, the U.S. Consumer, OPEN Small Business, and Serve cards."

On the heels of that announcement, Isis announced its initial rollout in Austin and Salt Lake City will begin this summer. According to the press release, the first of its local merchant partners includes "hundreds of merchant locations in both Austin and Salt Lake City," from bookstores to bakeries to pizza and burger joints. In addition to local partners, several national partners also were announced, including Aeropostale, The Coca-Cola Company, Champs, Dillard's, Foot Locker, Jamba Juice and Macy's. A list of partners can be found in the press release.

This is a step forward in the U.S. for mobile commerce, but in a post at Wired, Nathan Olivarez-Giles writes: "As for which smartphones will actually work with Isis, the mobile payments consortium is keeping mum." He also says not to "feel too bad for Google Wallet," Isis' main rival, as many of Isis' national partners have already signed on with Google Wallet.

X.commerce harnesses the technologies of eBay, PayPal and Magento to create the first end-to-end multi-channel commerce technology platform. Our vision is to enable merchants of every size, service providers and developers to thrive in a marketplace where in-store, online, mobile and social selling are all mission critical to business success. Learn more at x.com.

Canada gets a mobile wallet

Canadian banks recently agreed on a new set of guidelines that support secure transactions using NFC chips. In a post at The Globe and Mail, Grant Robertson and Rita Trichur report that the new guidelines will "change the way Canadians pay for goods at retailers across the country" and will "open the door for partnerships between financial institutions and telecommunications companies to embed credit card and debit card information inside smartphones."

That door didn't need to be open long — almost immediately, Rogers Communications and Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce (CIBC) announced a partnership to launch Canada's first mobile wallet. Alastair Sharp and Cameron French at Reuters report that the wallet will be available later this year. The mobile commerce technology situation in Canada is a step ahead of most Western countries, including the U.S. — as Sharp and French point out, Canadian retailers have broadly adopted the electronic reader equipment required to interact with NFC chips.

Rob Bruce, president of communications for Rogers, told Reuters "60 percent of Rogers' postpaid customers use a smartphone and that some 300,000 of those are already NFC-enabled." Bruce speculated that mobile wallets will be as common as cameras on smartphones within a few years. Robertson and Trichur at the Globe and Mail also note that "[s]ince most consumers upgrade their cellphones every 18 to 20 months, it is estimated that the majority of Canadians will have NFC-enabled smartphones by 2014."

Benefits of sharing may trump NFC privacy concerns

According to research conducted by Catapult, technology isn't the only holdup for U.S. mobile wallet adoption. EMarketer reports that "[91% of respondents to the Catapult survey] said they would worry about maintaining their privacy, including two-thirds who would be 'very concerned' about this."

Consumer privacy concerns may have a lot to do with the newness of the technology, however, and once consumers use it, they might find it more useful and convenient than worrisome. Kit Eaton at Fast Company argues that sharing your identity and a touch of personal information via NFC will lead to discovery and finding things you never knew you wanted. He says such sharing allows businesses to better understand and serve consumers:

"Picture a music festival in five years' time when instead of a wristband you'll wave your smartphone at a wireless portal, and an app you've pre-set to share particular pieces of personal info (perhaps age, gender, and so on) communicates with the festival's computer. In return it sends a promotional tweet and you'll get a free ringtone to promote the upcoming single of the band you're listening to or an invite to a streaming music service where the band has created a playlist of artists you might like."

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April 05 2012

Commerce Weekly: The do's and don'ts of geo marketing

Here's what caught my eye in the commerce space this week.

Placecast's CEO on the secret to successful targeted offers

PlacecastLast August, I wrote about Placecast, which has been working to deliver coupons and offers on behalf of its retail clients to opted-in customers when they hit geofenced areas. Placecast's platform allows merchants to set up a ring around their locations (or other locations, as described below) and then trigger an SMS to customers who have opted in to receive them. Placecast works with mobile carriers to deliver large tranches of opted-in customers to its merchant clients. This week at O'Reilly's Where Conference, Placecast CEO Alistair Goodman talked about the right and wrong way to deliver ads to a geofenced audience, based on the learning curve they have climbed over the past few years.

Some of these are obvious, like the need to link data about the customers' preferences with the location — the richer the data, the more relevant the message, and the more likely it is to hit home. Goodman explained this as a sort of stack, with positioning data (mostly from GPS, but supplemented with Wi-Fi and other data) at the lowest level. Just above that, a layer on context: What type of place is the user at (mall? stadium? park?) and what's the weather like? Atop that level, demographics and psychographics — who are the users and what do users in their consumer categories tend to go for? Atop that layer, the users' preferences: What do they want to be notified about, when, and how often? And finally, at the top of the stack, the offer itself: What is it the retailer is promoting?

A second key point is the need to find relevant locations — not just the retailer's store, which is obvious, but other places where the customer is likely to be receptive to the offers. For example, you might promote dog food or pet stores at a dog park, or a promo for a sports drink around a gym, or the sponsor of a concert around an arena. Interestingly, Goodman said that while merchants often ask Placecast to geofence around a competitor's store, he advises them that isn't a particularly effective marketing strategy: "If a customer is already headed into a certain store, a message urging them to visit a different location isn't likely to be very effective. A more effective way is to promote the message from a relevant public space." (I noticed the audience received this wisdom in total silence; you could almost hear the wheels of doubt spinning.)

Finally, Goodman said customers react better to offers when they believe it comes to them through this channel with some level of exclusivity. "Customers like it when they feel they're getting an offer that others aren't getting." So the coupons or other offers can't be the same as what's posted on the window of the store.

Goodman said the platform can deliver offers through a variety of channels, but most are delivered as SMS text messages, which remain tremendously effective. And they seem to be working: Goodman said that their research finds that 49% of store visits that occurred after receiving a Placecast ShopAlert were unplanned before the alert, while another 19% served as reminders to visit the store. In these cases, you might say those texts delivered twice.

X.commerce harnesses the technologies of eBay, PayPal and Magento to create the first end-to-end multi-channel commerce technology platform. Our vision is to enable merchants of every size, service providers and developers to thrive in a marketplace where in-store, online, mobile and social selling are all mission critical to business success. Learn more at x.com.

Jumping ship at Google Wallet?

Google WalletThe departure of Google Wallet co-founding engineer Rob von Behren to join payments startup Square aroused suspicion that Square might be looking to incorporate NFC in its system. Dan Balaban's article in NFC Times puts von Behren's departure in the context of a swath of high profile talent exits from a project that appears to be struggling to find partners and users. Balaban quotes a mobile commerce analyst who believes von Behren's joining Square almost certainly means a move by Square to support NFC. "Else, it would be like hiring Michael Jordan to get advice on golf," the analyst said.

In the past, Square's COO Keith Rabois has questioned the value of NFC, calling it, at last September's GigaOM Mobile Conference, "a technology in search of a value proposition." But as more mobile phones ship this year with the short-range wireless technology, it seems natural that Square would want to tap into it to facilitate its "Pay with Square" (formerly Card Case) system that allows customers to pay at merchants with their Square accounts.

Meanwhile, Balaban's article raises questions about the viability of the Google Wallet project. In addition to von Behren, fellow founding engineer Jonathan Wall and product lead Marc Freed-Finnegan left to start their own mobile-commerce startup, Tappmo, in March. Andrew Zaeske, former director of engineering for Wallet, is also said to have left the project. Speculation centers around disagreements between Wallet chief Osama Bedier (who joined Google from PayPal in February 2011) and other leaders of the team over the project's direction. It can't help that the refusal last autumn of Verizon to allow Google Wallet into its phones, and Verizon, AT&T, and T-Mobile's plans to launch their own mobile wallet under the Isis brand, cast into doubt whether Wallet will ever be able to expand beyond the Sprint network.

Will carriers like Facebook's post-IPO status?

Mobile carriers run the risk of losing text revenue from Facebook, as more of the service's users access it from mobile devices and use it as their primary communication channel. That's the view of Victor Basta, managing director of London-based Magister Advisors, which advises companies on acquisitions and public offerings. Basta told Bloomberg BusinessWeek that "Facebook's IPO is about the worst thing that could happen to network operators" since the pressure to demonstrate strong earnings to investors will make it harder for Facebook to share revenue with the carriers. Facebook's "over-the-top" service rides on the mobile networks, failing to share any of the revenue from advertising delivered over it and increasingly taking away from the carriers' SMS text earnings, as users send free Facebook messages instead.

"The fundamental challenge for network operators will be finding a way of becoming part of the Facebook ecosystem rather than simply external enablers," Basta said.

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If you're interested in learning more about the commerce space, check out DevZone on x.com, a collaboration between O'Reilly and X.commerce.


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February 16 2012

Commerce Weekly: Google defends its Wallet

Here are some of the news stories that caught my eye this week.

Google says its Wallet is still safer than your leather one

Google WalletGoogle's mobile commerce team spent the week doing damage control after the revelation of security flaws. Last week, it was widely reported that engineers at Zvelo, which provides web-categorization services, had found vulnerabilities in Google Wallet that allowed an app they had written to expose the PIN and tap prepaid funds in the wallet. Google's initial response was to advise users not to run Google Wallet on rooted phones, and be sure to have the screenlock on. But further work, as reported by Zvelo engineer Joshua Rubin, suggests that the hack requires root access, but not necessarily a pre-rooted phone: "While it is true that this PIN vulnerability requires root privileges to succeed, it does not require that the device be rooted previously." Rubin's post and a nice summary by Neil J. Rubenking at PCMag give a good picture of the vulnerability.

Security flaws like this feel inevitable to those accustomed to the ups and downs of web start-ups and the public bugs that accompany any release-early, release-often philosophy. They are, however, more alarming to those who work with banks, merchants, and anyone else who has experience moving money around. Bank Technology News captured the split between the two attitudes and cited Aaron McPherson, a practice director with IDC Financial Insights saying the recent security problem demonstrates "an almost cavalier attitude by non-payments companies toward protecting consumer security."

Google wasn't cowed by the charges, responding with a calm coolness and an insistence that, despite any flaws in its payments system, it's still better than what everyone else is doing:

"Mobile payments are going to become more common in the coming years and we will learn much more as we continue to develop Google Wallet. In the meantime, you can be confident that the digital wallet you carry provides defenses that plastic and leather simply don't."

X.commerce harnesses the technologies of eBay, PayPal and Magento to create the first end-to-end multi-channel commerce technology platform. Our vision is to enable merchants of every size, service providers and developers to thrive in a marketplace where in-store, online, mobile and social selling are all mission critical to business success. Learn more at x.com.

Buck enters the one-click mobile payment fray

Buck (previously Billing Revolution) announced a one-click credit card checkout for goods this week. Entering your credit card information once in the app allows you to buy with a single click at participating online merchants — providing you want to buy from Glamour magazine, Papaya Mobile's social gaming network, or any of the other (relatively few) merchants now offering Buck.

If, on the other hand, you're at your local Starbucks, you'll want to pay with one click by unlocking your Starbucks mobile payment option, generating a 2D barcode, and holding it up for the cashier to scan. But suppose you were feeling too groovy for Starbucks this morning and you stopped at your local independent coffee house? Then you might want to pay with a single click with Square's Card Case, providing your indie coffee guy has signed up for that. At Home Depot, you'll want to use PayPal, at Macy's you can tap-and-pay with Google Wallet, and you might need to pay with American Express to get the Foursquare deal that your local eatery is offering.

Mobile payment is exhausting in its current, fragmented state, but it will be interesting to see which systems gain critical mass. Recent web history offers some clues. It was not too long ago that a half dozen search engines, including AltaVista, Yahoo and AskJeeves competed for your searches until one company offered a simpler way with more effective results. And five years ago there were a handful of social network sites competing for our profiles, including MySpace, Orkut, and Friendster, until Facebook rose on a platform of sharing photos, social games, and an easy interface. So which mobile-payments option will find the right combination of security, usability and adoption first?

Adele scorns freemium model

Freemium may be the up-and-coming dominant model in mobile apps — particularly in games — but not everyone is in love with the concept. Adele, who just took home six Grammy awards, declined Spotify's request to stream her award-winning album "21" on its service. According to Austin Carr on Fast Company, the reason is that Spotify offers two tiers of service: a free ad-supported service and a premium one without ads. Adele was willing to let "21" stream to Spotify's paying customers, but not to those riding for free. Spotify, which doesn't offer different libraries for its two tiers, couldn't accommodate the request. So while you could buy "21" on iTunes or hear it on Rhapsody (where everyone pays to stream), you can't hear it on Spotify. But, as Carr points out, with a 20% conversion rate of free subscribers to paying ones, who can second-guess Spotify?

Got news?

News tips and suggestions are always welcome, so please send them along.


If you're interested in learning more about the commerce space, check out DevZone on x.com, a collaboration between O'Reilly and X.commerce.


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December 08 2011

Commerce Weekly: Verizon drops Google Wallet

Here's what caught my attention in the commerce space this week.

Verizon to Google: Leave your Wallet at home

VerizonVerizon's decision not to support Google Wallet in a new NFC-enabled phone renewed concerns that the mobile payments landscape is in for a long turf battle. Samsung's Galaxy Nexus, an Android-powered phone in all other respects, won't support Google Wallet on Verizon because, the carrier says, Google Wallet differs from other apps in that it interacts not only with the operating system but also with "a new and proprietary hardware element in our phones" — presumably, the NFC chip.

Few thought that was the whole story: the consensus among observers was that Verizon won't ship Google Wallet because it's one of the founding partners of Isis, a competing mobile-wallet solution. Isis isn't on any phones yet, but it's planning trials in Austin and Salt Lake City later this year. Verizon teamed up with fellow telecoms AT&T and T-Mobile, along with Barclaycard US and Discover Financial Services to launch the Isis effort last autumn. Since then, Isis has signed agreements with the other major credit card services to collaborate on development.

ZDNet's James Kendrick said it's not just about Isis, but about how much Google should pay to reach a new, large pool of customers: "Google will have to pay Verizon to play." And besides, Kendrick wrote, Google has a deal with Sprint right now — though it's going to be a long, cold winter for Google if that agreement keeps it off the other major carriers.

This fragmentation is likely to be the case for a while, noted Rebecca Greenfield at The Atlantic. Mobile wallets are probably fine for enthusiasts and early adopters, but mainstream shoppers won't take it too seriously until they know they can use their mobile wallets in most of the places they go. "[W]e won't leave our wallets at home until we get a cord-cutting equivalent," Greenfield wrote. "For now, users either have to load a smorgasbord of mobile payment apps, or settle for the current half-hearted solutions."


X.commerce harnesses the technologies of eBay, PayPal and Magento to create the first end-to-end multi-channel commerce technology platform. Our vision is to enable merchants of every size, service providers and developers to thrive in a marketplace where in-store, online, mobile and social selling are all mission critical to business success. Learn more at x.com.

Crooks take swipe-and-pay literally

In a reminder that unattended payment points — such as pay-at-the-pump terminals, ATMs, and self-serve check-out lanes — are weak links in the payments security chain, shoppers at Lucky supermarkets in Northern California appear to be the victims of criminals who tampered with card readers to skim debit card and PIN data. As of Tuesday, police in Petaluma, Calif., had 112 reports from customers of the local Lucky who reported unauthorized withdrawals from their accounts.

SaveMart, Lucky's parent corporation based in Modesto, Calif., said on its website that it discovered breaches back on November 23 and replaced compromised card readers at 20 stores. Unfortunately, they missed a few stores, including the one in Petaluma.

It's not clear yet what method was used to skim the data and the PINs. BankInfoSecurity.com reports that there are several ways to capture the PIN, including compromising the PIN pad hardware inside the box. In that case, it's also possible that Bluetooth technology could be used to transmit data to a laptop in a car parked close outside. Michael's craft stores were hit by a similar breach last May, causing that company to replace 7,200 PIN pads.

"Criminals realize that retailers are understaffed to the point that swapping out a [point-of-sale terminal] will go unnoticed," McAfee consultant Robert Siciliano told BankInfoSecurity. "Once they determine the make and model of an easily swappable device, they target a chain they can easily comprise."

Starbucks succeeds with payments, moves on to augmented reality

Starbucks said it has processed more than 26 million transactions on its mobile app since launching it last January. The novelty effect appears not to have worn off: in the first nine weeks of the program, there were three million transactions. For the nine-week period starting in October, there were twice that number. The Starbucks app is a nice example of what's possible with lightweight payments when you have complete control of a closed-loop system. Customers can load up a Starbucks card by credit card online or at a store (with cash or credit). They can draw off that card's credit by clicking a button on the mobile app, which displays a barcode that Starbucks' cashiers scan to debit the card.

But payment is just one part of Starbucks' mobile strategy. In November, it introduced Cup Magic, an augmented-reality application that lets users interact with characters on its red holiday cups and on displays in its stores. After launching the associated iOS or Android app, you find drawings of the characters and view them with your phone's camera. The app identifies shapes in the characters and launches simple interactive animations, like snowflakes falling and the characters playing.

When I first read the release, I thought it was yet another way for customers to engage with their phones rather than anyone else in the store. But when my daughter and I went to a nearby Starbucks to try it out, just the opposite happened: a crowd of curious customers gathered around to see what we were laughing at. Some downloaded the app right away and began doing the same. The two cashiers, who were unaware of the app or the secret behind the character drawings, demanded to know what we were all doing. When we explained, they agreed it was pretty cool and helped us locate the other characters in the store. As we drove home with her hot chocolate, my daughter explained to me how each of those people in the store would probably go home and tell a few other people about what they saw at Starbucks this evening. I smiled and thought to myself: a viral marketer's dream.

Got news?

News tips and suggestions are always welcome, so please send them along.


If you're interested in learning more about the commerce space, check out DevZone on x.com, a collaboration between O'Reilly and X.commerce.


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October 20 2011

Commerce Weekly: Google juices its Wallet

Here's what caught my eye in the commerce space this week.

Google pairs payment with coupons in one tap

Google WalletGoogle expanded its Wallet this week. At some retailers — American Eagle Outfitters, The Container Store, Foot Locker, Guess, Jamba Juice, Macy's, OfficeMax and Toys“R”Us — the lucky few Sprint customers who have Google Wallet can pay for purchases, redeem coupons and earn rewards points with just one tap.

Google showed off a video (below) of its employees at these stores, demonstrating Google Wallet to lots of very excited people. Of course, as is clear on the video, Google is paying for their purchases as part of the demo, so that may have something to do with the enthusiasm.

Google also announced a deal with the New Jersey Transit Agency to enable Google Wallet purchases through some busses, vending machines and ticket booths. Stephanie Tilenius, Google's vice president of commerce, said "Transit has been a common element of every major successful NFC effort globally and is a critical component of Google Wallet's success." Isis, which is likely to become one of Google Wallet's main competitors when it begins showing up on phones sometime next year, feels the same way. Last spring Isis announced that one of its first trials will be with Salt Lake City's Utah Transit Authority.

Announcements like this may come and go like streetcars, but the real shift will come when more NFC-capable phones are available on more carriers. Currently, only Sprint subscribers holding Nexus S 4G phones can tap and pay with Google Wallet. HTC, LG, Motorola Mobility, RIM, Samsung Mobile and Sony Ericsson announced en masse last month that they would introduce NFC-enabled mobile devices that implement Isis's NFC and technology standards, presumably sometime in 2012. But it will still take time before secure NFC phones are mainstream. Even so, Juniper Research is bullish on the uptake curve, predicting that NFC mobile contactless payments will reach nearly $50 billion globally by 2014.

X.commerce harnesses the technologies of eBay, PayPal and Magento to create the first end-to-end multi-channel commerce technology platform. Our vision is to enable merchants of every size, service providers and developers to thrive in a marketplace where in-store, online, mobile and social selling are all mission critical to business success. Learn more at x.com.

PayPal powers eBay's results

EBay reported strong growth this week through its commerce channels. Fueled by PayPal and mobile payments, Q3 revenue was 32% greater than last year ($2.97 billion compared to $2.25 billion in 2010). In a conference call with analysts, CEO John Donahoe said the company expects PayPal's payment volume to exceed $3.5 billion in 2011, five times greater than it was in 2010. At last week's Innovate conference in San Francisco, the company showed off plans to bring PayPal to the physical point of sale. Donahoe said the company will begin rolling those payment systems, which don't rely on NFC but rather pay through the cloud or with direct-billing technology, as soon as the fourth quarter.

Also this week, Donahoe discussed eBay, PayPal and the future of payment at Web 2.0 Summit. Video from his Q&A session is below:

Got news?

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If you're interested in learning more about the commerce space, check out PayPal DevZone on X.commerce, a collaboration between O'Reilly and PayPal.


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September 22 2011

ePayments Week: Google Wallet debuts

Here's what caught my attention in the payments space this week.

The mobile wallet is here

Google WalletGoogle Wallet officially launched this week with payment partners Citi and MasterCard on board and three other credit card networks (Visa, Discover and American Express) waiting in the wings. Version 1.0 is pretty much what Google said it would be when it announced the service last May. Google is launching it first on Sprint's network, and for now you need to have Samsung's Nexus 4G — though there are several other NFC-compatible devices in use today and more coming soon. You also have to find a MasterCard PayPass terminal — typically found in taxis, fast-food restaurants and convenience stores — to tap and pay. (If you're looking for the technical specs on how that works, MasterCard's site has a handy interactive that shows how tapping the phone emits a beep from the terminal.)

Payment with the phone is only part of the value proposition; Google knows that won't be enough to convince consumers to use it. The integration of payment with rewards, loyalty programs, and coupons is just as important — as this spoof video of the "first Google Wallet customer," lifted from the "Seinfeld" archives, makes clear. It's a small start, with only a narrow slice of the smartphone user base able to tap into it. But who can doubt the promise of one of the Google engineers starring in the intro video when he says, "We're constantly working to improve the wallet."

It's worth noting that PayPal president Scott Thompson demoed their point-of-sale solution last week, emphasizing that PayPal isn't waiting for NFC and is instead considering multiple payment options, including bar codes (like Starbucks) and PIN confirmations (as with direct billing). Earlier this summer, Ogilvy & Mather's Mobile Shopper survey found that far more consumers trusted PayPal to handle their mobile payments than Google (34.3% versus 19.5%). If Google's challenge will be to earn consumer trust, PayPal's will be to remain visible as Google and its high-profile partners push their solution.

Mobile payments deemed "very unimportant" by some consumers

If Sprint fails to report a wave of new customers who suddenly must have the Nexus 4G, it will come as no surprise to the folks at Lightspeed Research who reported this week that mobile payments are "very unimportant" to more than half of all smartphone users. Only 15% said that mobile payments were somewhat or very important. An article in American Banker quotes Jim Smith, president of Blue Dun consultancy, saying that consumers are basically satisfied with their current mobile payment solution, the credit card: "The killer application in mobile payments hasn't happened yet," Smith said. (Presumably, he hasn't seen Google's "Seinfeld" parody.)

Lightspeed also reported that mobile app usage differs widely among customers of different credit cards and banks. Among the interesting differences:

  • Smartphone penetration is highest among American Express and HSBC customers — both at 37%.
  • Discover is the only issuer with more than 50% of its customers still using "basic mobile phones." In line with this, they have the lowest penetration of smartphone users at 28%.
  • 37% of Wells Fargo credit card customers said they have downloaded the Wells Fargo mobile app — the highest penetration among the card issuers analyzed.

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Who's that Android user?

Tech blog Mobile17 published a nice infographic on Android users, drawing on data from Nielsen, AdMob, Hunch.com, and others. One of their sources was a similar graphic from Mostly Blog published back in August, contrasting Android and iOS users. Among the more interesting findings in Mobile17's graphic:

  • Android owners talk on their phones about 15% of the time. They're on apps more than 56% of the time, not including email and messaging (19%) and web browsing (9%).
  • Android users are more likely than iOS users to be guys, more likely to be conservative, and more likely to be pessimists. They also are 80% more likely to have only a high school diploma (that is, no college degree) than iOS users.
  • That Samsung Nexus 4G you need to use Google's Wallet? It's not in the top ten most popular Android phones.

Of course, we can't infer simple conclusions about demographics and preferences for Google's operating system versus Apple's without also taking into consideration that Android mobiles are offered (by multiple handset vendors) at lower price points than the iPhone — so, income may be driving that preference more than other factors.

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If you're interested in learning more about the payment development space, check out PayPal X DevZone, a collaboration between O'Reilly and PayPal.

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