Payments are to the mobile web of 2016 what e-tailers were to the first Internet bubble. If you don’t have a friend, a cousin, or a roommate who is doing a payments startup then you’re not very well-connected in Silicon Valley.
By that measure, Osama Bedier is practically the granddaddy of today’s payments world. He explored point-of-sale ideas at AT&T Wireless a lifetime ago, guided a thriving e-commerce business for a PC maker called Gateway that you have to be over a certain age to remember, and became a senior product executive at PayPal in its formative years. He also started Google Wallet, the search, advertising, and mobile software behemoth’s first foray into moving money around in support of commerce on its properties.
Bedier is a big man who curses a lot and is given to grand pronouncements. When he stopped by my office Tuesday he said his goal with his new company, Poynt, is “to bring commerce out of the Dark Ages.” He aims to do that by selling a brand-new, software-enabled point-of-sale device—the hardware that merchants use to accept credit and debit cards. He thinks his device is worlds better than inadequate tools that work on smartphones (the low end) and antiquated machines sold by market leaders Verifone and Ingenico (the high end).
The point of Poynt is to sell through what’s known as “acquiring” banks. These include Vantiv, Chase, Bank of America, and Wells Fargo. (He has signed up the first two in addition to a large Brazilian bank.) Going through middlemen lowers a startup’s cost. (I asked why Poynt rather than Point, by the way. The latter is taken by a reverse-mortgage scheme that calls itself “the anti-debt approach to homeownership.”)
Bedier has huge plans to attack the market of 18 million “terminals” in the U.S. and 120 million worldwide. Already, he says, Poynt has taken preorders on 500,000 units, an enviable start. The competition will be massive, however, and this at a time that some question the “offline” retail business altogether. (Offline is what the great William Safire called a retronym: Before “online” it was called retail.)
I can’t judge if Poynt will win. Anyone can see there will plenty of losers in online payments—and a very few winners.
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BITS AND BYTES
Facebook gets more emotional. After months of speculation, the social network is adding more options for members to respond to posts that show up in their news feeds. Aside from the original "like" button, they can now comment in five other ways—ranging from "love" (a red heart) to "wow" (a surprised face). (Fortune)
Dell-EMC deal clears antitrust hurdle. The Federal Trade Commission has signed off on the $67 billion transaction. European Union regulators also appear ready to approve the union, although they have until Feb. 29 to comment. EMC shareholders must also vote on the proposed merger. (Fortune)
Xiaomi refreshes flagship smartphone for first time in two years. The Chinese company, which fell short of its 80 million-unit shipment goal last year, is relying on the Mi 5 to restore its mojo in markets like China and India. The device includes an "optically stabilized" camera and is based on new technologies from Qualcomm. (Re/code)
Amazon courts big banks. Amazon Web Services has intensified its sales overtures to financial services giants including Citigroup, Goldman Sachs, and JPMorgan, reports The Wall Street Journal. Amazon's cloud service is making inroads with corporate America after making its name with Internet companies like Netflix, but IBM and Microsoft have strong relationships in this sector. (Wall Street Journal)
Oracle strengthens its cloud story. The giant software company is buying Ravello Systems, which specializes in technology for moving applications from data center to data center or (as is more often the case) from cloud service to cloud service. The deal size wasn't disclosed, but reports estimated it at between $400 million and $500 million. Oracle sees its biggest cloud rival as Microsoft, and this could be a key competitive weapon in luring business. (Fortune)
Google poaches high-profile Amazon customer Spotify. The music-streaming pioneer will move many of the computer server and data storage technologies behind its service onto Google's cloud platform. The deciding factor, apparently, was its data analytics capabilities. Google is the third largest cloud operator, behind Amazon Web Services and Microsoft, but it recently tapped VMware co-founder Diane Greene to turn that around. (Wall Street Journal)
Is Whole Foods planning to invest in Instacart? The national grocery chain and delivery startup are finalizing a five-year deal that will make Instacart the exclusive partner for delivering Whole Foods perishables, reports Re/code. The partnership builds on an already blossoming relationship and also calls for Whole Foods to invest an undisclosed sum. The move would be a blow to Google, which is trying to expand its own grocery delivery service. (Re/code)
BlackBerry buys cybersecurity consultant. The acquisition of U.K. company Encription underscores the Canadian company's expansion into software and services, a move meant to reduce its dependence on smartphone hardware. (Reuters)
Shutterfly discloses takeover overture. The online photography service, which tried unsuccessfully to find a buyer two years ago, was recently approached by an unidentified suitor, reports The Wall Street Journal. The company revealed the development for regulatory reasons, but said it isn't involved in buyout negotiations. (Wall Street Journal)
Fitbit still sells more wearable gadgets than Apple. The fitness band company sold 8.1 million devices in the fourth quarter, which was almost 30% of the market. Its market share was almost twice that of its nearest rival Apple. Wearables shipments reached 78.1 million units in 2015, which represented a 171.6% increase over 2014. (Fortune)
Supreme Court considers triple-damage patent cases. Patent cases in the U.S. can produce eye-popping judgments that can make or break a company. One big reason such lawsuits, or even the threat of them, are so scary is because of a rule that lets judges triple the damages.
The Supreme Court is taking a closer look at how those triple damages should operate. The case before the court is actually two cases, both of which involve a manufacturing company that wants “enhanced damages” from a defendant that infringed its patents.
While the legal details are fairly technical, the outcome is important because the Supreme Court’s ruling could make it easier for patent owners to obtain triple damages (the law allows for “up to three times the amount”) in the future. Apple, for instance, asked to triple the enormous verdict it won against Samsung in 2013, but a judge refused after finding Samsung’s behavior did not qualify for the extra penalty. (Fortune)
IN CASE YOU MISSED IT
The big risk of Donald Trump's fight with Apple by Mark Gimein
Bill Gates clarifies his stance on Apple vs. FBI—sort of by Claire Zillman
Amazon adds smart reordering service to Samsung printers by Leena Rao
Get instant gratification with this millennial-friendly stock investing app by Kia Kokalitcheva
'Candy Crush' now belongs to Activision by Chris Morris
Why Time Inc. buying Yahoo makes sense by Mathew Ingram
ONE MORE THING
Instagram wins exclusive rights to David Bowie mini-series. Actress Nikki Borges received unprecedented access to the late musician while he was producing his final album, "Blackstar," last year. (Fortune)
This edition was curated by Heather Clancy.