Square Registers for sale at Starbucks, pushing virtual sales to physical stores

Starbucks announced that Square Register devices will be on sale at 7,000 coffee locations. Starbucks is the latest place where the e-commerce gadget is available alongside Walgreens, Target and other stores.


Like the other locations, Square is actually charging $9.99 for the device with the list price credited to the user’s Square account. In other words, it is free as long as the user follows through with the purchase and follows through with Square. Users have been able to order Square devices for free online since the startup’s launch.

It is a great move for Square as Starbucks is the first natural brick-and-mortar fit for small, mobile purchases. Other retail outfits are either all-purpose big box stores, like the aforementioned Target, or tech-focused chains like Radio Shack and Best Buy.

To Starbucks advantage, any business deals are made over coffee, so entrepreneurs will have an easier time joining Square for an unexpected sale. More broadly, if a person is buying coffee for a group of people, he or she could get paid back via the device.

This will probably be the first of many physical space moves Square will make in 2013. Just last month it launched a gift card program for users to send or to redeem within Square.

Best Buy, Target, 7-11 and others form Merchant Customer Exchange, mobile wallet solution

A group of  leading U.S. retailers announced today they have formed Merchant Customer Exchange (MCX), a company dedicated to mobile-commerce with a mobile wallet app already under development.

MCX is currently composed of merchants like 7-Eleven, Best Buy, CVS/pharmacy, Darden Restaurants (Olive Garden, Red Lobster), Lowe’s, Target, Wal-Mart and others. All together the MCX merchants account for $1 trillion in annual sales, and the group expects to announce more members in the coming months. MCX intends to cater to the needs of financial institutions, merchants and consumers as mobile payments become more common.

Mike Cook, Wal-Mart’s corporate vice president and assistant treasurer said in a statement the MCX platform will use secure, efficient technology that will benefit all merchant categories including retail, dining, petroleum and e-commerce.

We’ve seen increased activity regarding mobile wallet and near field communication (NFC) technology recently, and the announcement of MCX is yet another example of big companies vying for position in the emerging sector.

Last week Mobile payments processor Square announced a new partnership with Starbucks that will see the company take on responsibility for processing all credit and debit card transactions at corporate-owned Starbucks in the U.S. That news came a week after  Google announced that Google Wallet has been updated to a cloud-based version that supports all credit and debit cards from Visa, MasterCard, American Express and Discover. Mobile wallet and NFC initiatives are also beginning to pick up speed in Europe — last month MasterCard and Deutsche Telekom announced a partnership to roll-out NFC payments in Europe, starting with Poland and Germany.

Mobile App Roundup: Apple, New SDKs, Mobile Payments & More

Steve Jobs Resigns as Apple CEO — In case you somehow missed it, the head of Apple, Steve Jobs, has announced his resignation as CEO of the company this week. Apple has confirmed that its current COO, Tim Cook will be taking his place. Jobs, however, has been elected as chairman of the company’s board of directors.

RecessLunch Money Launches Mobile Game Monetization Platform — A new startup by the name of Lunch Money has announced a new platform SDK that will help mobile app developers both monetize and distribute their games, as TechCrunch covers. Presented via its iOS game, Recess, the initial features for the platform include a social leaderboard and token system that works similarly to an analog arcades (tokens are needed to play various free-to-download games).

Motiga Creates New Multiplayer Mobile Game Server — Startup Motiga has announced the creation of a new technology to allow small development teams to create multiplayer games for mobile. Called the Motiga Infinite Context Engine (MICE), its capabilities will premiere at the Penny Arcade Expo this weekend with Motiga’s upcoming game The LeftOvers.

Nextpeer Launches Multiplayer SDK — Nextpeer is also launching a new SDK for mobile developers. Through it, developers can transform single player games into multiplayer ones, support tournaments, and allow for leaderboards. Currently, the SDK is only for iOS but Android is next. A Nextpeer virtual currency is also in the works.

Google Previews Google TV — Google released a preview version of its new Google TV Android SDK. The SDK will allow developers to create and optimize Android applications for use on the Google TV platform, which will be available when it is updated to Android 3.1.

Crimson Steam PiratesBungie Aerospace Announces Crimson: Steam Pirates — Bungie Aerospace was created to help small independent developers launch social and mobile games, and its first title will be revealed at PAX this weekend. The game is a freemium title, Crimson: Steam Pirates for iPad. Developed by Harebrained Schemes, it’s turn-based and has players command a variety of steampunk pirate vessels.

Dwolla Launches Proximity-Based Mobile Payments — Mobile payments platform Dwolla has released a new beta feature by the name of “Proxi” on iOS. Proxi allows users to send and receive mobile payments based on their proximity to another connected device without the need for NFC technology.

Intuit GoPayment Reader Comes to Verizon Stores — Intuit and Verizon Wireless announced a partnership that will bring the former’s GoPayment mobile card reader to over 2,300 Verizon retail locations in the U.S. GoPayment is a mobile credit card reader that connects to a phone or tablet headphone jack to accept payments and works for iOS, Android, and BlackBerry.

Boku Expands Direct Carrier Billing — Mobile payments company Boku is expanding its direct carrier billing in France. The payment option will now be available to users of Bouygues Telecom and SFR.

SoundHound Partners With Spotify — Creator of the music identification and discovery app for iOS and Android, SoundHound, has announced a partnership with Spotify this week. Through the deal, European SoundHound users will gain access to Spotify’s 15 million music tracks.

Taptera Raises $2 Million — Enterprise iOS applications maker Taptera has raised $2 million this week in a Series A round led by Terence Garnett with participation from Salesforce.com and various angle investors. Garnett is also slated to join Taptera’s board.

ZiteCNN May Buy Flipboard-Style App Maker Zite — Based on information from Techvibes, news corporation CNN is in talks with Zite regarding a potential acquisition. Though details are sparse, the price could be between $20 million to $25 million. Zite is the maker of the personalized iPad magazine app of the same name.

Ustream Shuts Down Live Mobilizer, Partners with Mobile Rodie — Ustream is shutting down its Live Mobilizer development platform and partnering with Mobile Roadie, reports TechCrunch. Through the partnership, Ustream broadcasters will be able to work with Mobile Roadie and create mobile apps for their live channels.

RIM to Add Native BBM & Email to PlayBook — According to Bloomberg, RIM’s BlackBerry PlayBook is set to get a software upgrade next month that will finally add a native email program and BlackBerry Messenger. Additionally, RIM may also still be launching an Android player for the device this year.

Samsung Galaxy S II Coming to the States — The Samsung Galaxy S II is finally making its way to the U.S. However, The Wall Street Journal is reporting that the new device will not launch on Verizon. It will still be available through AT&T, T-Mobile, and Sprint.

GowallaGowalla Removes Virtual Items & Notes — Gowalla is attempting to improve its user experience by removing both the app’s virtual items and note taking features from check-ins. The removal is simply because less than half a percent of Gowalla users were making use of them.

[Launch] RIM Launches BBM Music App — Research In Motion has announced the launch of its new BBM Music application. For $4.99 a month, users can collect up to 50 songs on their “BBM Music profile,” but can access the songs of all of their friends as well.

[Launch] Hulu Comes to Vizio Tablet — Hulu Plus has made its official debut on Android, TechCrunch reports. The application is currently available on the Vizio Tablet.

Microsoft PatentsMicrosoft Touchscreen Gesture Patent Attempts Become Public — Several patent applications from Microsoft became public recently. The patents focus primarily on touchscreen gestures for a tablet device, including motions such as pinch and expand, dual tap, and hold and drag. That said, the patents are merely public and have not been granted.

[Legal] Dutch Judge Bans Samsung Devices — In Apple’s patent suit against Samsung, a Dutch judge has found that Samsung is in violation of Apple’s European software patent regarding scrolling within mobile photo galleries. According to FOSS Patents, an injunction against the Galaxy S, Galaxy S II, and Ace phones has been made, and the sales ban will begin October 13th.

Windows Phone Hits 30,000 Apps — The Windows Phone has reached a new milestone, as TechCrunch covers. The platform now has 30,000 applications. Additionally, Microsoft has opened up the Windows Phone Marketplace to developers for new Mango OS app submissions.

[Rumor] iPhone 5 Available Through Sprint — The Wall Street Journal is reporting that the iPhone 5 is set to launch in mid-October and that it will be sold by Sprint. Additionally, Reuters is reporting that Apple is also working on an 8GB iPhone 4 to be sold at discount.

Rovio’s Angry Birds Taps NFC to Let Players Unlock Virtual Goods in The Real World

We’re continuing to see interesting experimentation at the intersection of gaming and the real world with titles this year like CrowdMob’s Mob Empire, Grey Area’s Shadow Cities and Churn Labs’ Gnonstop Gnomes.

Now the king of mobile gaming, Finland’s Rovio Mobile, is throwing its hat into the ring with Angry Birds Magic — a platform that lets players unlock new content, levels and virtual goods through NFC (near-field communication).

Players will be able to either tap their phones against friend’s devices or go to special locations to access new content or virtual goods in the game. The initial version of the technology will likely unlock the Mighty Eagle, a virtual good Rovio recently introduced that’s like a super bird that can wipe out an entire level when a player is stuck or frustrated.

Like some of the features the company has recently introduced, the plan is to make Angry Birds Magic a platform that third-party developers can use to also add NFC abilities to their games. Given that Rovio has been a sought-after partner in launching emerging platforms like the Chrome Web Store and Amazon’s Android Appstore, it’s not hard to see how real-world businesses like retail chains might want to offer exclusive Angry Birds content as a way to drive foot traffic to their locations. But Rovio is stressing that it wants to find appropriate partners that are still fun and don’t degrade the brand.

Rovio, which has been heavily focused on extending the Angry Birds franchise into other mediums like film and plush toys, is also planning on launching a cookbook filled with egg recipes. It also recently acquired a Finnish animation studio, which could pave the way for an animated series. The company has the cash to see through its vision with $42 million from Atomico Ventures and Accel Partners.

While we’ve seen location-enabled social apps like Foursquare and Instagram take off, mobile gaming has yet to see a true, breakout hit that’s location-enabled. Booyah’s MyTown, which was a Monopoly-like check-in game was an early forerunner in the space. Since then, Grey Area raised $2.5 million for its location-based fantasy RPG Shadow Cities and the social gaming veterans behind CrowdMob have been stealthily experimenting with a Mafia Wars-meets-Foursquare title called Mob Empire. Churn Labs, which is the Sequoia-backed incubator from AdMob founder Omar Hamoui, also has a cute gnome-themed game where friends can trade off virtual gnomes and take pictures of them around the world.

Interestingly enough, if Magic took off, it would make Rovio more of a competitor to non-gaming companies like Sequoia-backed Bump, which offers an app that lets users trade contact information, photos and other media between devices.
Here’s a demo video of the version of Angry Birds Magic that lets players trade levels between devices:

Tuesday Mobile Round-Up: Nokia-Apple Patent Dispute, Square Hires

Apple to Pay Nokia in Patent Settlement: The outcome of this intellectual property disagreement may end up being a net win for Apple because other Android-focused competitors likely will have to pay more on a per-unit basis as Apple has a more defensible patent portfolio, argues Florian Mueller.

The iTunes Store Costs $1.3 Billion a Year to Run: Based on the amount that Apple says it has paid out to developers at different points in time, Horace Dediu calculates that the company is now spending about $1.3 billion a year to run the store — assuming it’s breakeven. He bets that much of the extra margin is going into building out excess capacity by investing in data centers.

Facebook and Apple: Lost ConnectionsTechCrunch has dug through a wide variety of reports, pointing out just how close the two companies appeared to be to forming a partnership in past years, before Apple instead decided to partner with Twitter.

Instagram Crosses 5 Million Users With Just 4 Employees: Instagram’s co-founders Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger have told us they finally need to start hiring. And with 5 million registered users, 95 million photos and 2,500 apps accessing their APIs, it’s about time. The company’s priorities are still mostly on growing the user base instead monetizing through advertising or in-app purchases.

Hewlett-Packard May Also Be Getting Into Mobile Payments Game With New Devices: Bloomberg is reporting that HP may introduce NFC-enabled phones and tablets by the end of the year. That would let users pay for items and receive coupons and loyalty points by tapping their phones on posters and grocery store cash registers.

The New York Times, OpinionLab Pre-Emptively Sues Lodsys: The alleged patent troll is getting a taste of its own medicine as others in the ecosystem challenge the validity of its patents. While it has filed three lawsuits, the Texas-based company is also facing four others.

With Google Wallet, How Much Potential Will There Be for Third-Party Developers?

With Google’s launch of a highly-anticipated mobile payments app, the big question for third-party developers is how much access will they get?

Google Wallet, launched today in New York, is a payment app that turns people’s phones into their wallets — a vision anticipated long before even the advent of smartphones. For years, Asian markets like Japan have led the U.S. in terms of mobile payments. But with Google’s launch today and Visa-backed Square’s new consumer-oriented strategy unveiled this week, 2011 may finally be the year mobile payments come of age. (Visa is not involved in today’s launch even though Citi, First Data and Mastercard are.)

Details were scant for developers but it appears that Google intends to release a series of APIs that would allow users to transfer their offers, get access to their receipts and participate in loyalty programs. There will also be a set of APIs for banking partners that should make it relatively easy to integrate different types of payment instruments.

Ultimately, the plan is to bring Google Wallet to a greater number of devices beyond the sole compatible phone today, the Nexus S 4G on Sprint. Considering that a big emphasis at this year’s developer conference I/O was Android-compatible accessories and non-phone or tablet devices, there could be some interesting integration possibilities in the long-run on many everyday devices beyond phones.

Although he is part of a different division internally at Google than the one overseeing Wallet, the group manager for Android Eric Chu has told us in the past that he intends for developers to have some level of access to NFC, although he didn’t offer too many specifics. “Stay tuned,” he’s told us.

A question on this front is whether Google can manage its internal politics. Any kind of mobile payments platform for developers would likely be under the purview of two separate fiefdoms inside Google: commerce under Stephanie Tilenius and Android under Andy Rubin. We’ve heard in the past that relations between the two have not always been smooth. (Consider the fact that a Paypal integration with Google Checkout in Android Market hasn’t launched for years.)

Another question would surround security, should third-party developers gain some level of access to NFC. For now, Google says financial data is stored in a chip called the ‘Secure Element” on the phone. Google says there are “strict access policies so that malicious applications wouldn’t have access to data stored by Google Wallet.” The company adds that the Google Wallet app itself doesn’t have read or write access to the ‘Secure Element’ containing a user’s credit card information.

Google says it’s not taking any fees for transactions facilitated through the service. So it would seem premature to wonder about any fees or revenue splits for third-party developers at this point.

Android Opens Up More NFC Access for Developers

Google’s Android platform is finally giving developers the ability to write to NFC tags in what could give rise to dozens of novel payments and gaming apps. Up until now, Google has only allowed developers to build apps that read data.

The new access for developers includes a write API that will let apps transmit data to tags and a new kind of dispatching method that lets the application a user is running in the foreground pick up tags before other apps do. There is also some support for peer-to-peer connections between NFC-enabled devices. It also lets apps listen for specific types of tags or certain types of content on them.

Near-field communications, or NFC, can support transactions between two devices held just a few centimeters apart. It’s usually thought of as a technology that’s well-suited for payments, but it has also been embedded into “smart posters” or advertisements that have extra information like links to websites, movie clips or coupons. NFC has been used for years in Japan and Hong Kong in ticketing, payments, convenience stores and vending machines. There are plenty of potential applications: NFC could be used to replace receipts at the dry cleaners or the coffee shop. In gaming, it could allow friends playing the same game to physically swap virtual coins or goods.

There are a few NFC-enabled apps in the Android Marketplace already. Taglet, from Japanese developer Kyosuke Inoue, lets users read basic information like websites or Twitter handles from NFC tags. Inoue is already using NFC to change the check-in — he recently built a way for users to share their location on Japanese social network Mixi when they’re close to other NFC tags, instead of having to open a native app like Foursquare or Facebook Places.

Another NFC Android app, EnableTable, tries to improve customer loyalty by giving diners coupons at the end of their meal when their phone is near the bill.

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