Friday 26 December 2014

Four technology trends that can make your life a whole lot easier

Published 21/11/2013 | 01:00

Coin
Coin
Snapchat
Stripe's Patrick Collison
The Air BnB website

In tech, everyone wants to know what the next big thing is. While smartwatches and 4G get the headlines, much of what's set to change our lives is continuing to happen online.

Here are four things to watch over the coming months, and why.

* Coin

WHAT IT IS: A card that can 'replace' up to eight credit or debit cards at a time by recording the data from those cards and using it to pay for things.

WHERE YOU GET IT: It's being launched first in the US market.

WHY THEY SAY IT'S THE NEXT BIG THING: With credit, debit, loyalty and gift cards proliferating, wallets are expanding to bursting point. What if you combine them all into one single card? That's what high-profile US startup Coin does. It allows you to 'record' (via a card-swiping attachment dongle) a card's key payment information onto the magnetic stripe of the consolidated 'Coin' payment card. This card does not then display the sensitive data but does so via a smartphone app. It's a clever concept that is getting a lot of attention. There are two initial problems for the system. The first is that it does not yet support chip-and-pin cards (although it soon will). The second is that some shops, presumably, would baulk at accepting the card, even if their system verified it as a correctly-configured card. In this climate of suspicion, merchants who have not heard of technology such as Coin will simply refuse to accept a payment on it.

* Snapchat

WHAT IT IS: A phone texting and photo-messaging service to rival iMessage and Whatsapp. Its main differentiator is that messages self-destruct after a number of seconds, encouraging correspondents to be bolder and less concerned about posterity.

WHERE YOU GET IT: It's a free download for iPhones and Android phones.

WHY THEY SAY IT'S THE NEXT BIG THING: Originally characterised as a cheeky photo-messaging service occasionally used for exchanging racy snaps, Snapchat has become a social media juggernaut following in the footsteps of Instagram. There are two reasons for its success. First, its 'temporary' photo-messages give users a sense of freedom when using it. There is no long a data trail or historical online identity that Facebook users fret about. Secondly, it's a hell of a lot cheaper to use than phone networks' 'multi-media messaging' services which often cost up to 50 cents per shared photo. The service has already struck a chord with 23-year-old founder Evan Spiegel reportedly turning down a €2.3bn cash offer for the company. Mr Spiegel also turned down a Chinese-based investment proposal valuing the firm at €3.1bn.

* Stripe

WHAT IT IS: An online payment system for small merchants who want to be able to accept credit cards without jumping through financial hoops to get formal accreditation from banks.

WHERE YOU GET IT: At Stripe.com

WHY THEY SAY IT'S THE NEXT BIG THING: While the government has been urging small businesses to become 'e-traders', most find a door slammed in their face when they try to get a credit card payment system onto their website. It is not unusual for those applying for the requisite 'merchant account' credentials to be asked for six-figure 'security deposits'. One reasons is that banks equate small firms with risk. For this reason, they don't like giving small traders online 'merchant' (credit card accepting) accounts. What Stripe does is to marry the gravitas of a proper bank (Wells Fargo) with an extremely user-friendly credit-card payment service that is easy to integrate into a small firm's website. This may not sound like a big deal, but it is: hardly anyone else has managed to do it in the way Stripe has. And with only 2pc of consumer spending currently occurring online, this is a massive growth area. That the creators of the service are the Limerick-born ex-Young Scientist winning brothers, Patrick and John Collison, is a pleasant bonus.

* Airbnb

WHAT IT IS: An online service that matches those with rooms, apartments or houses to let with those who need to rent short-term accommodation.

WHERE YOU GET IT: At Airbnb.com

WHY THEY SAY IT'S THE NEXT BIG THING: As anyone looking for a hotel room during Dublin Web Summit discovered, decent accommodation can be hard to find. Wouldn't it be great if someone with a really nice self-contained room or apartment or house made their pad available? That's exactly what Airbnb does. It matches up people with someone who's willing to let rooms for a few nights. It's been a runaway success, with over 500,000 'rooms' now available and occupancy at about 150,000 every night. That means that it is close to overtaking the two biggest hotel chains in the world, Hilton and Intercontinental, each of which have 650,000 rooms available.

Irish Independent

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