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Mobile payments race heats up at Mobile World Congress 2015

Mobile World Congress 2015 didn't disappoint, with breakthroughs in mobile payment, Internet connectivity, virtual reality and more. Also in Searchlight: Apple Pay fraud on the rise; former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton used private email for government affairs.

When you think of Barcelona, you probably picture sangria, tapas and soccer, but once a year technology and telecommunications...

heavyweights flock to the Spanish city and command the attention of consumers and companies from across the globe. Mobile World Congress, one of the biggest events in technology, kicked off in the City of Counts and lived up to its name. About 93,000 attendees from 200 countries convened to check out the latest and greatest in mobile innovation from the likes of Samsung, HTC and Microsoft (Apple was predictably absent). And by mobile, I'm not just talking smartphones. From virtual reality to wireless charging furniture to even more wearables (and yes, robots, too), the show offered proof, if more were needed, that mobile technology is reinventing how we live:

Mobile payment marches on

Samsung and Android have jumped into the mobile payments ring with Samsung Pay and Android Pay. Samsung's offering, which rolls out this summer, is only available on the latest S6 and S6 Edge smartphones. However, unlike Apple Pay, the Samsung Pay works with both NFC-enabled terminals and standard magnetic card readers, courtesy of technology from recently acquired startup LoopPay.

Android Pay is a different animal: an application programming interface (API) layer allows credit card payment capabilities to be built into any Android app, such as Google Wallet. And speaking of Google Wallet, it will come preloaded onto future Android phones following Google's deal last month with AT&T, T-Mobile and Verizon, which included Google's purchase of some of the technology behind Softcard, the carriers' soon-to-be-defunct mobile payments system.

Google and Samsung's announcements in Barcelona came in tandem with yet another acquisition of a mobile payment startup. PayPal this week shelled out $280 million for Boston-based Paydiant, which provides the technology behind CurrentC, the mobile wallet backed by a consortium of big-name retailers, including Target, Wal-Mart and CVS.

So does all this activity spell the demise of the credit card? We'll see. Tech writer Steve Wildstrom has doubts whether all of these systems, most of which function similarly, will survive. "A grouping into two rival systems seems more likely -- Apple, Google, and Samsung combining on the one hand and CurrentC and PayPal on the other," he speculates on the Techpinions blog.

Facebook, Google expand Internet access

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg sought to soothe telecom operators' concerns in a keynote panel that included discussion on Internet.org, his company's initiative to spread Internet access to the developing world. The Internet.org app will provide free access to such basic features as Facebook, text messaging, weather and health data, and educational resources.

Some telecom operators expressed concern at this proposition, reported the Wall Street Journal, saying that these free Internet-based phone and texting services might cut into their bottom line. But Zuckerberg said that the new initiative actually depends on Facebook's cooperation with telecom companies. "It's expensive work, and building all the infrastructure that needs to get built to connect everyone costs a lot of money. The only way to accelerate is to grow the operator business faster," he said.

Google Vice President Sundar Pinchai also touched on Internet connectivity, highlighting the company's three Internet projects: its expansion of Google Fiber, its high-speed landline service aimed at urban areas; Project Loon, which will bring Internet access to remote areas via high-altitude balloons; and Project Titan, which will complement Loon with lightweight, solar-powered drones. And that's not all Google has in its sights. It also plans to become a wireless carrier "in the coming months," but contrary to what that might sound like, Google isn't necessarily planning to shake up the wireless industry; in fact, Pichai confirmed the company is in talks to partner with AT&T and Verizon Wireless.

Google sees its forays as "an experiment" on how connectivity can be improved. "We're trying to show innovations, like calls automatically reconnecting if someone drops on one end. Those are the kinds of ideas we're pursuing with this project," he said.

BlackBerry wants to become a software business

BlackBerry rolled out a new touchscreen phone, BlackBerry Leap, in an attempt to lure young professionals, disclosing plans to launch three more devices this year. But all the attention was on the struggling smartphone maker's plans to transform into a software company. "We're going to make sure our software technology addresses everybody's phones and everybody's endpoint," he said, including connected cars and wearables.

Blackberry has already made moves to that effect, hooking up with Samsung and Google.

What else?

A slew of smartwatches from the likes of Samsung, LG and Huawei (Huawei's Android Wear watch was the belle of the ball). HTC and Sony gave their take on virtual reality with prototype headsets. Also, Ikea showed off wireless charging furniture; Apple and IBM added three new apps to their business suite; Microsoft unveiled two low-cost Lumia devices and gave everyone a peek into Windows 10. Microsoft's stand was designed to look like a small village; and of course, quirky gadgets were in abundance.

CIO news roundup for week of March 2

Here is some other non-MWC-related news from the week:

  • Samsung's and Google's announcements weren't the only thing that shook up the mobile payments market this week. Fraudulent activity on Apple Pay has been surging, causing many banks to strengthen their verification processes for adding new cards to the system.
  • Data security, transparency in the government: The news that former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton solely used a private email account to conduct government transactions caused an uproar. Clinton recently broke her silence on the matter on Twitter.
  • A quantum leap: Researchers at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and at Google announced that they've achieved a huge step toward building a quantum computer.

Check out our previous Searchlight roundups on whether enterprises should bet on Android for Work and how an Apple car can drive the IoT conversation.

Next Steps

Get the latest enterprise mobility management news from Mobile World Congress 2015 at BrianMadden.com. Then, watch our Startup Spotlight video on Paydiant to learn about the technology behind CurrentC.

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Well, are you ready to buy a smartwatch?
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They are cute, and somewhat interesting, but part of me really loves not having to wear a wristwatch. I was a long time holdout, but sure enough, the phone weaned me from wearing a regular watch. as to the SmartWatch, ehh, I guess I don't see enough compelling content to really make me want to strap one on just yet.
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Yes, I am looking into investing in smart watches as they come with a fitness and health option that is able to monitor blood flow, which is used to determine my heart rate. Most of the features on this theme smartwatch do not require any other activity other than wearing the gadget on my wrist. It will also provide easy communication that integrates surreptitious communication, music control, ultra geek factors and also mobile payment platforms.
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I'm on the fence for buying a smartwatch. While some of the features do appeal to me, I'm not such it's a good investment from a financial perspective. 
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I've never been a regular watch-wearer, so I can't imagine starting now. I'm still not convinced that there is a feature important enough that I need to have on my wrist instead of in my pocket (especially if I still have to own and carry the computer in my pocket). 
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That $17,000 smartwatch does seem tempting though!
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agree on the financial perspective -- $10,000 apple watch?! i wasn't expecting a luxury item! definitely a different target demographic there from previous apple products. and i'm curious how it will change how we go about our lives. the fact that we don't have to take a phone out of our pockets, log in, etc., to do various tasks -- i wonder how radical of a change these watches will turn out to be.
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Right now, the mobile payments business is owned by Square. I'm probably biased because we're a Square partner, but they're the ones to beat.
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