Google, Mobile Payment Wars, Custom ROMs, Mango, And More

BYTE Wireless Radio digs into the week in mobile news.

This was a huge week for mobile news junkies. This week's episode heralds our new 22-minute format, giving more space for hosts Craig Johnston, InformationWeek VP Fritz Nelson, and I to do some deep analysis of Google's announcement of its open mobile partnership platform and its newly announced Google Wallet and Google Offers.
There's a lot under the covers here that most people are missing. On the show, we explain why Google and, earlier this week, Square, are only rolling out in a few cities and with certain merchants.

It's up to us to explain because Google and Square keep leaving out a major stumbling block they face. They make promises of future digital wallets, but they don't have the deals to back it up.

Any company trying to deliver swipe-to-pay to a majority of U.S. retailers and customers needs a lock-down deal with all five backend merchant services companies--or acquirers.

Google announced it was in with just one of them--First Data--but Google needs the other four to win this game. The other four are: Chase Payment Tech, T-Sys, Elavon and Heartland. Between them, the Big 5 acquirers bring access to well over 90% of U.S. stores, allowing swipe-to-pay appservice to truly take off.

Byte Mobile Radio

Without them, only limited tests in certain cities and stores are feasible. Listen to the show for a deeper understanding of this.

"We are extending an open invitation to ... ecosystem partners ... to join us in creating tomorrow's best shopping experience, said Google VP of commerce and payments Stephanie Tilenius.

In English, that's Google's plea to get the other four acquirers on board so it can win the mobile payments war. Its announcement Thursday came two days after Square announced vague plans to make "buying a cappuccino as easy as buying a song on iTunes."

You know, Apple, PayPal, Intuit, Google, Microsoft and many others have been in a race for years to lock down those acquirers. Only problem is, the acquirers are taking their time to pick their horses. They move slower than IBM on a good day. They're in the banking industry, for crying out loud.

Google is off to a good start, though. Google announced its platform with partners in a joint development agreement with First Data, Citi, MasterCard, and Sprint.

"Your phone will be your wallet," Tilenius said at the Google announcement. "Just tap, pay, and save." Again, that'll only happen when Google or someone else shakes the acquirers and the other companies involved in the complicated mobile payment chain out of trees. No one should hold his or her breath here.

Tilenius, we note in the show, is named in a trade secret lawsuit PayPal filed against Google for hiring her and another former top payments exec. Listen to the show to see why.

Also this week, BYTE senior editor (and JP Morgan Chase biz analyst in Columbus, Ohio) Eric Finkenbiner joined us to give us his take on HTC CEO's Peter Chou's out-of-the-blue post on HTC's facebook site.

Thursday afternoon, Chou wrote, "There has been overwhelmingly customer feedback that people want access to open bootloaders on HTC phones. I want you to know that we've listened. Today, I'm confirming we will no longer be locking the bootloaders on our devices."

It was a comment that set off a burst of excitement among geeks across the board.

On in the show, Finkenbiner explained why deep tech folks are so tickled. Chou's Facebook remark generated more than 7,000 comments on the Facebook page at last count. Basically, unlocking bootloaders allows folks to install custom boot ROMs in their phones.

"For people who like to customize their Droid devices, it's been an exciting couple of months," Finkenbiner told us. "With this news, HTC joins Motorola and Sony Ericsson in opening up access to bootloaders."

"These moves are huge wins for the geek community," he told us. "It'll alleviate the pressure and bad press Android handset manufacturers get in response to the slow rollout of Android updates, for one thing.

"In giving inventive and enterprising individuals the opportunity to create and load custom ROMs, HTC is satiating the same technically savvy individuals who evangelize and grow their customer base," he said.

Finkenbiner, who is providing deeptech content on rooting phones and installing custom ROMs in phones for the upcoming in BYTE, only hopes HTC makes sure that installing a new custom ROM for bootloading won't void the warranty.
Another teamBYTE member, BYTE Technologist Todd Townsend in New York, concurred with that when I asked him. He also thought the HTC announcement was huge.

"I still have an original Motrola Droid, which Verizon stopped updating at 2.2 last summer. I just put on 2.3 and a custom kernel, which slightly overclocks while also using less power due to lower voltage settings. It now feels almost as fast as the fastest modern, single-core phones. The whole process took me about 30 minutes, including backups," he told me.

Also on the show, we hotly debated the value of Mango, the upgrade to Windows Phone 7 unveiled in New York earlier this week.

Craig and Fritz got into it on whether Microsoft's update is too little, too late. Windows Phone 7 has been long behind the competition. Its new features (500 in all) bring it into the present.

In my opinion, Microsoft has a history of being behind, watching and lurking, and then conquering the market in a third or fourth revision. Remember Windows 3.11? Back in 1989, Apple and PC-based systems like Quarterdeck's Desqview were far more advanced. I wonder if anyone even remembers Desqview anymore.

Everyone on teamBYTE--including Craig and Fritz on the show--agreed the big news here was two-fold: HTML 5 support in Mango and its hardware acceleration feature.

We didn't expect Microsoft to support HTML 5. And the hardware acceleration, at least as shown in the demo, blew competing phones away. Microsoft said Mango will be available on phones later this year--but of course, slipping the date is a Microsoft habit akin to a woman's prerogative. Which I reserve.

Finally, we talked about teamBYTE--the 80-plus strong combo of techpros and journalists who are putting BYTE edit together now. I have a personal blog called BYTE Unplugged where you can get behind the scenes and meet these folks. It's an amazing team.

For instance, I hosted the SF Appshow this week, where 10 mobile app vendors showed their new wares. While I was on stage, the team live blogged and posted info on all the apps here.

BYTE Unplugged I should clarify, is a blog and only a blog. I don't sell ads and I profit from it in no way. It is not a UBM Techweb property.

It is just designed to give people like you a behind-the-scenes look at the relaunch of the most venerated tech journalism brand of all time. On the blog, which will go down when BYTE launches, you can get down and dirty with teamBYTE.

Check it out. I'll post your favorites here on InformationWeek in a slideshow soon. Just cast your vote at [email protected] BYTE Wireless Radio is the first of many short podcasts BYTE is starting before its launch in mid-July. It is a 22-minute show where you can hear serious and sometimes humorous analysis (as long as Fritz is there!) on what's going on in mobile. Join us.

For InformationWeek, Techweb and the new BYTE, I'm Gina Smith.

Gina Smith is launch editor of BYTE, coming in July. Follow her on Twitter @ginasmith888 and BYTE @BYTE.

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