Weekend news round-up: Apple bites into NFC, 3D-printed rockets

1 Sep 2014

In our round-up of weekend tech stories, Apple has signed NFC deals with Visa, MasterCard and American Express, Uber and Lyft’s rivalry, and NASA is testing 3D-printed rocket components.

Apple plants new financial seeds

Despite its promise over the past three years, it appeared the NFC mobile payments party would not begin in earnest until consumer tech giant Apple joined in. Retailers, in particular, need some convincing. Well, it looks like Apple’s 9 September press event may include more than just new phones and smartwatches and Apple could tip the scale for NFC.

Re/Code reported that Apple is working with American Express on iPhone 6 mobile payments.

“Apple’s new payments system is expected to let iPhone 6 owners use their phones in place of credit cards, debit cards or cash to pay for goods in brick-and-mortar stores. Customers will present their phones at the checkout counter of partnering retailers to transmit payment information to complete a purchase. It’s not clear which retailers have signed on to accept such payments.”

Bloomberg, citing a person familiar with the situation, reported that Apple is also working with Visa and MasterCard to make the system.

“The new iPhone will make mobile payments easier by including a near-field communication chip for the first time, the person said. That advancement, along with Touch ID, a fingerprint recognition reader that debuted on the most recent iPhone, will allow consumers to securely pay for items in a store with the touch of a finger.”

Hunting the big prize in e-sports

The New York Times reported on the fascinating emergence of e-sports, where teams of online gamers battle it out for lucrative cash prizes.

“The video game Dota 2, like so many across the internet, transports teams of players from their bedrooms to a verdant virtual world where they smite each other through keyboard and mouse clicks. Except on this sunny day in July, every attack and counterattack by a five-person team set off an eruption of cheers — from the more than 11,000 spectators crammed into this city’s basketball arena.

“The contestants were gunning for a big piece of the US$11m in total prize money, the most ever at a games tournament. And the game’s developer, the Valve Corporation, moved another step closer to securing gaming’s legitimacy as a major-league spectator sport.”

What really happened to Motorola

Chicago Magazine provided a thoughtful analysis about Motorola Mobility, the US mobile maker with an important legacy in mobile that Google bought for US$12bn in 2012 before selling the company to Lenovo last year for just US$2.9bn.

“Getting outflanked by tech upstarts, hacked in two by a fearsome corporate raider, and finally taken over in part by a Chinese company that exists largely because of the world Motorola made for it: Such a fate would have been unthinkable 20 years ago. Motorola was then one of America’s greatest companies, having racked up a stunning record of innovation that continually spawned new businesses, which in turn created enormous wealth. Motorola had the vision to invest in China long before most multinational companies. It even developed Six Sigma, a rigorous process for improving quality that would be embraced by management gurus and change the way companies nearly everywhere operate.

“However, as the history of many giant corporations (Lehman Brothers, General Motors) shows, great success can lead to great trouble.”

Things are going to get very interesting in the net neutrality debate

The Washington Post reported the appointment of computer science professor Scott Jordan to the post of CTO of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) could have implications for the net neutrality debate.

“While it’s generally dangerous to parse an academic’s publishing record to deduce how he or she might make public policy, Jordan has done us the favor of actually filing comments with the FCC the last time the commission considered rulemaking on the open internet question. It’s a nuanced take, distilled in Jordan and a co-author’s statements that ‘neither the extreme pro nor con net neutrality positions are consistent with the philosophy of internet architecture’ and ‘the net neutrality issue is the result of a fragmented communications policy unable to deal with technology convergence.’”

Uber or Lyft? No difference

While the tech world watches aghast at the cat-and-dog rivalry between taxi apps Lyft and Uber, The New York Times tech blog reported they have become indistinguishable services.

“If you need a ride, pull out your phone and load up the Lyft app. Or try Uber. Really, it doesn’t matter which you pick.

“Though the two ride-sharing giants have carried on like the bitterest of enemies recently, their services have become pretty much indistinguishable. In many places, they both offer ubiquitous, cheap and mostly high-quality service.

“They’ve become commodities.”

3D-printed rocket engines

Space Flight Insider reported that US space agency NASA and contractors are testing a new way of producing components for rocket ships – 3D printing.

“As NASA prepares the materials and machines to send humans to destinations far beyond the gravitational influence of Earth, the space agency is turning its attention on new game-changing technologies to help them in their efforts. The companies that enable NASA to accomplish its objectives are also taking an active role in developing new methods to facilitate space exploration initiatives. One technology in particular, additive manufacturing, more commonly known as 3D printing, has come into its own and is being increasingly used to produce rocket engine components. NASA, Aerojet Rocketdyne, SpaceX and other firms have all been pushing this technology to new heights.”

Digital shopper image via Shutterstock

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John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years