Apple Adds UnionPay, China’s Largest Bankcard Network, To App Store Payment Options

App Store customers in China can now link their UnionPay debit or credit cards to their Apple IDs for purchases, Apple announced today.

This is significant for Apple and Chinese consumers because China UnionPay, a bankcard network approved by China’s State Council and the People’s Bank of China, enjoys a virtual monopoly. It has issued more than 4.5 billion cards in China, and is available in all cities, as well as in overseas market. China (which has an estimated 100 million iPhone users) is Apple’s most important growth market; in its recent fourth-quarter earnings report, the company reported that the market generated $29.8 billion, or 16 percent, in net sales in 2014.

China UnionPay is the only interbank network in mainland China to link all ATMs. Government regulations mean that all ATMs and Chinese merchants have to use UnionPay to process payments in renminbi, as well as foreign credit card companies like Visa, MasterCard, and American Express, which pay UnionPay a fee for each transaction. Previously, customers made payments on the App Store through their telecom operator, like China Mobile, with their credit cards, or through prepayments.

In a statement, Eddy Cue, Apple’s senior vice president of Internet Software and Services, said “the ability to buy apps and make purchases using UnionPay cards has been one of the most requested features from our customers in China. China is already our second largest market for app downloads, and now we’re providing users with an incredibly convenient way to purchase their favorite apps with just one tap.”

The link-up between Apple and UnionPay is also interesting because it comes after news that Alipay, which was founded by the Alibaba Group, and Apple Pay may consider striking a partnership. An Alipay-Apple hookup may also give the Cupertino-based company more leverage against UnionPay, which was slow to strike an agreement with Apple.

But even though Alipay is China’s largest online payments system and is keen to broaden its online-to-offline business as well, the physical retail market is still overwhelmingly dominated by UnionPay. Furthermore, Alipay is still not available for Apple services, including the App Store.

While it hasn’t been made official, a partnership between the two tech giants seems likely: during a recent visit to China, Cook gushed Alipay, saying “we love to partner with people that are wicked smart, that have flexible teams, that are product based and we like to push them. I think Jack [Ma, Alibaba Group’s founder] has a company just like that.” Another good sign for Alipay is the decision, made late last month, by the State Council to open its payment system to foreign companies, which could also allow Alipay to expand its physical payment points because it means it no longer has to follow UnionPay’s rules.

Featured Image: Shutterstock

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Microsoft pilots 3D audio technology to help blind people navigate

With Oculus Rift closing in on the consumer market, and Google Glass making steady strides, reality augmentation is becoming increasingly embedded in our lives. But typically, augmented reality (AR) has been centered around visual senses.

Microsoft’s one company that has been working on 3D audio technology for a while, enabling headphones to create an illusion of sound that’s emitted from a very specific location. As MIT Technology Review previously reported:

“I put on a pair of wireless headphones that made nearby objects suddenly burst into life. A voice appeared to emanate from a cardboard model of a portable radio. Higher quality music seemed to come from a fake hi-fi speaker. And a stuffed bird high off the ground produced realistic chirps.As I walked around, the sounds changed so that the illusion never slipped as their position relative to my ears changed.”

Used in conjunction with something like Oculus Rift, this technology has the potential to augment the visuals of the virtual reality realm. But the use-cases extend far beyond that of gaming and leisure.

Hear, hearScreenshot 2014 11 06 13.20.05 520x375 Microsoft pilots 3D audio technology to help blind people navigate

Microsoft is piloting a project in the UK to investigate the potential benefits of its 3D audio technology on those with visual impairments.

The computing giant partnered with the Guide Dogs charity, alongside Network Rail, Reading Borough Council, Reading Buses, Future Cities Catapult (an urban planning company) and supermarket powerhouse Tesco.

Using a set of bone-conducting headphones placed around the back of the wearer’s skull, a mini network of indoor and outdoor beacons work in tandem with a smartphone to enable the user to ‘hear’ their way around an area.

The Bluetooth beacons are fixed to physical objects which then communicate information back to the walker. It’s effectively creating what it calls a “sensor-boosted physical environment” and a 3D soundscape with verbal cues – this may be GPS navigation, bus time arrivals, or even tourist information.

You may be wondering why Tesco’s help has been sought here. Well, for the pilot, users can be guided to the aisle they’re looking for.

While it’s still very much in the early research stages, it’s interesting to see this technology being used out in the wild to solve real problems. In this case, it’s being used to bring enhanced mobility and independence to those who need it.

Check out the ‘Independence Day’ video Microsoft produced to demo the technology. Meanwhile, you can read more about the pilot here.

➤  Pilot program helps people with sight loss navigate cities like never before

Original post: Microsoft pilots 3D audio technology to help blind people navigate

Beyond Siri, Google Now and Cortana: What is the future of virtual assistants?

Dr Chris Brauer is a Senior Lecturer and Director of the MSc Management of Innovation programme and the Centre for Creative and Social Technologies (CAST) in the Institute of Management Studies (IMS) at Goldsmiths, University of London.

Our inner voice, or the internal dialog we have with ourselves, may one day have company.  For our unspoken thoughts that prompt us to make everyday decisions may be joined by a new, artificially intelligent voice in our heads – the virtual assistant.

The virtual assistant (VA), a digital servant/master designed to serve/define our every need, is barely starting out on its journey from the realms of science fiction (think KITT in Knight Rider or HAL in 2001 Space Odyssey) to mainstream reality.

IBM is already investing heavily in the area; the company has revealed that it is pouring resources into the development of A.I. and cognitive computing. Microsoft’s Cortana has recently launched, and it will reportedly run on the desktop with Windows 10. Soon, it will be everywhere – and nowhere – in your life. Moving beyond screens, social, and search, the VA will be the new gateway to the Internet and all the people and things connected to it.

Cortana 520x231 Beyond Siri, Google Now and Cortana: What is the future of virtual assistants?


Already we can start to see its trajectory from mobile and wearable, to ‘hearable’ and perhaps one day ‘implantable’. Project Virtual Assistant is a research collaboration between the Institute of Management Studies (IMS) at Goldsmiths, University of London and global media agency Mindshare. We set out to explore and understand the opportunities and challenges of bringing the virtual assistant of the future to life for users, regulators and service suppliers.

We worked intensely with 12 consumers in a focus group for six weeks, running workshops and experiments in ethnographic service design with the latest technologies for face and emotional recognition, beacon technologies like those in the revamped Regent Street, wearables, hearables, trackables, and even scent.

We interviewed subject matter experts including Rashik Parmar, president IBM Academy of Technology and Sally Annereau, data protection analyst at law firm Taylor Wessing. And we surveyed the British public for their views and opinions on VAs.

The virtual assistants of the future

Over the course of our research, it became apparent that the VA is likely to start off life on the mobile (where Google Now, Siri and Cortana currently live) with research finding that initially 40 percent of interactions would take place on the phone.

As smart watches bring access to digital information and connectivity closer to the user, the next step will be to strip back the physical hardware as far as possible, with the intelligence of the VA existing in the cloud, getting pulled in, and pushing its way into our lives on multiple devices on our bodies and in our offices, homes, and vehicles. 81 percent of those surveyed wanted the VA to be voice controlled, demonstrating the urge for the hardware to be a secondary concern.

Her 730x278 Beyond Siri, Google Now and Cortana: What is the future of virtual assistants?

Joaquin Phoenix falls for his VA in the movie Her

Your VA will be continually prompting you with suggestions and taking instructions, and will know more about you than perhaps you do yourself. The inevitable trajectory is towards a kind of ‘post-human’ condition where users and their VA technology are not separate and distinct but are instead embodied and unified as one.

To begin with, this will be a device that can be taken in or out, already 2 percent of interactions are predicted to take place via earpiece, but if people value and become increasingly dependent on their VA we can expect this device to be implanted and permanent.

Just as a desire for ease and convenience has moved contraception from the wearing of physical devices to implants, so we will see the same thing with virtual assistants. We will initially want to decide when and where we synch our physiology, decision-making and emotions with our VA. Then real-time synchronisation will just be easier and more efficient.

Listening to your inner voice will take on a whole new meaning.

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Amazon launches ‘Pass My Parcel’ for same-day in-store order collection in the UK

In a bid to further expand its retail operations, Amazon has today announced that customers in the UK can use a new ‘Pass My Parcel’ same-day collection service for the first time following a deal with newspaper distributor Smiths News.

Amazon Prime members will be able to use the new same day collection option free of charge (“for a limited time”), while non-Prime subscribers will be able to use it for £4.99 per delivery. In order to qualify for same-day collection, orders need to be placed before 11.45am and can be collected any time after 4pm – customers will receive a notification telling them it has arrived in store and will then need to pick it up before midnight (depending on the closing time of the store).

Alongside the same-day collection service, customers can also opt for an Express Morning Collection service, with orders placed up to 7.45am being available for collection from the next morning. These orders will arrive in store no later than 9am.

Amazon said that once a collection point is chosen and the order is placed, all you need to do is present a code to collect the item.

The new option is available at more than 500 newsagents and convenience stores, Amazon said, all of which will carry the ‘Pass My Parcel’ branding to promote the service. In addition to Pass My Parcel, Amazon also operates Collect+ stores and Amazon Lockers to distribute physical goods to customers who would rather collect items than wait for a delivery. introduces first same-day pick-up service – order in the morning and pick up later thant day – free to prime customers

Image credit: Alexander Supertramp /

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Cozy Makes Its Rental Management Service Free

Cozy rental software

Cozy, a service that makes the rental process easier for landlords and tenants, has made its current feature set available to all clients for free. In a blog post, Cozy CEO Gino Zahnd says that making these features free will bring in a wider audience for products set for launch in Q4 2014.

Cozy lets landlords and renters handle payments online without dealing with complex scheduling interfaces. It also smooths the rental application and approval processes with profiles that carry from rental to rental and make credit reports readily available when it’s time to handle the background check.

Rental management services aren’t usually my thing, but earlier this month a few experiences piqued my interest in the subject.

I spent Labor Day weekend in New York, where one friend (followed by several more) explained to me that she still pays for her rent with a physical check she sends to her landlord. When I got back, a letter in the mail from my apartment complex said I’d have to pay with a check because their decade-old software package died and they were figuring out what to do.

Having managed to thus far avoid writing a check in the relatively brief period of my life where that means anything, I was kind of shocked at the prevalence of dependency on this outdated method of payment. Checks don’t make life easier for either side of a transaction nowadays!

How is this not something that is just automatically set up when a person decides to become a landlord? Willing to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars (or a lot more than that) to be responsible for the place people live, including upkeep and even maybe services, and at no point a person involved though to Google for “free rental software?”


Read more: Cozy Makes Its Rental Management Service Free