Windows Phone left out as Google Wallet swallows Softcard

Google purchased Softcard earlier this week, and today it posted a support page about what to expect from the mobile wallet service in the future as it shuts down. No surprises here: Android users should download Google Wallet, which is replacing Softcard. But for users of the Windows Phone Softcard app, there is no NFC payment alternative.

From the FAQ:

What about Softcard for Windows?
The Softcard for Windows Phone app will also be terminated. A specific termination date will be provided soon.

Softcard for Windows Phone, we hardly knew you. The app first launched on Microsoft mobile devices last fall for AT&T and Verizon subscribers, and allows users with NFC-equipped Windows Phones to make contactless payments at certain stores and restaurants, including McDonalds. Because Windows Phones aren’t equipped with fingerprint readers yet, users have to enter a PIN to unlock the digital wallet.

softcard windows phone

When Softcard exits the Windows Phone store, it leaves the platform without a NFC-enabled payments app. Microsoft Wallet can theoretically make NFC payments, but its acceptance has been slow, possibly due to resistance from the carriers (who were committed to Softcard.) Android devices can download Google Wallet, obviously, and Apple’s iPhones have Apple Pay. The Softcard FAQ doesn’t mention Softcard on iPhone, but the plans to enable Softcard on the iPhone using an “integrated secure SIM-based hardware solution” (an NFC-enabled iPhone sleeve) are probably on the back-burner, too.

The decision to pull the Windows Phone Softcard app might not be a snub intended to hurt Windows Phone. It’s possible that Google has simply decided that the relatively few Windows Phone users weren’t worth the extra resources to support the platform. Plus, Google Wallet could end up going cross-platform in the future. But it’s still an example of how Microsoft’s inability to gain traction with its mobile operating system is closing doors for its users, as well as for Microsoft itself in the rapidly heating-up mobile payments market.


Bluewire is a Bluetooth headset with a kitchen sink of features

Bluetooth headsets aren’t the hottest smartphone accessory, but a new Bluetooth headset on Indiegogo, called Bluewire, packs enough features that it’s worth another look even for users who don’t need hands-free calling.

Bluewire looks like a fairly standard, albeit chunky, hands-free Bluetooth headset. But it charges wirelessly thanks to Qi charging support, it uses NFC for quick pairing with a smartphone, and it’s even got an accelerometer built-in. Plus, it can record any phone call or VoIP call that passes through it on its built-in 16GB of memory.

Bluewire Bluetooth headset

The ability to record phone calls — both ends of the conversation, you and the other speaker — is the real draw here. Bluewire records calls “in hardware,” and it can even work if you’re not using the Bluetooth headset in your ear. Users can do a three-way pair and use a preferred Bluetooth speaker or headset — like your car — while still having the Bluewire record your call.

“Bluewire basically takes the Bluetooth signal, splits it for sound, then processes it and compresses it to a WAV file independent of the phone,” founder Avi Gilor said.

You access your recorded calls on a Bluewire app for Android and iOS which organizes your conversations and gives you an easy app for playback. The NFC can also be handy here — with the right phone, a simple tap can automatically send the audio file of your last recorded phone call.

Bluewire screenshot

Of course, call recording might not be legal where you live. For instance, California is a two-party consent state, so you’ll need to get permission from everyone involved in the conversation before you record them. In New York, however, any single party can record a conversation. By default, Bluewire beeps at the beginning of a conversation it records, but the noise can be turned off through the app. However, although Bluewire can record every day conversations (voice memos) that aren’t calls, its limited to five minutes at a time so it can’t be used as a persistent bug.

But although the call recording is the banner feature for the Bluewire, there are enough other functions to keep gadget enthusiasts happy. For instance, the built-in accelerometer isn’t used for step-tracking, but it can be used to find your phone. Simply shake the Bluewire and your phone will ring. It also works the other way — a button in the Bluewire app can make the Bluewire emit noise, making the Bluewire into a lost-item finder.

“The first challenge for us was how to split the data so you can talk on Bluetooth and still record on Bluewire,” Gilor said. “Then I added the dream list, the Swiss Army features, targeted towards gadgeteers in the crowd funding area.”

The accelerometer can also be used for the Bluewire’s most quixotic feature, the ability to use it as a burglar alarm — if you’re willing to hang your Bluetooth headset on your doorknob before you go to sleep.

Bluewire alarm

The Bluewire is currently on Indiegogo, but it seems like it’s already a fairly developed product, so the Indiegogo is sort of acting like a pre-order. Bluewire is expected to ship in July. Currently, early birds can grab one for $149, but Gilor says that when it eventually goes on sale in stores it will cost $270.




New life for QR codes

In his Weekly Update, Colin Gibbs, the Gigaom Research curator for mobile, notes that ‘While NFC struggles, QR codes slog on’. The QR (Quick Response) codes that got their start in Japanese manufacturing were repurposed in the last decade for mobile advertising, and now are being repurposed again for mobile payments. The NFC (Near Field Communication) tags that were expected to fill this role are still suffering from a lack of standardization.

NFC payments gaining traction abroad?

In his Weekly Update, Colin Gibbs, the Gigaom Research curator for mobile, looks at how NFC technology is faring for mobile payments. His assessment of the apparently-languishing application is simple: “Don’t write NFC off just yet.”
He finds not only what appears to be growing support with companies such as Apple and PayPal, but also a proliferation of new initiatives abroad. New projects are being launched in such locales as Canada, Brazil, the UK, Italy, and Kenya.
Google’s host card emulation (HCE) technology has given NFC a boost, but Colin still doesn’t expect that any one technology will prevail. Instead, he sees NFC as one of several that will find a place in the market.