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Weekend Technology Roundup

Hey Zaarly community. For those of you who didn’t have a chance to catch recent headlines, here’s a roundup of some of the more exciting technology stories of the week:

According to the Los Angeles Times, Barnes and Noble will be announcing their new eReader on May 24, although the makers didn’t include what the new device would be called, cost, or look like. This will be an update to the two eReaders Barnes & Noble have already released, the Nook and the Nook color, which are competing with Amazon’s Kindle and the Sony Reader.

Next, for all you car aficionados, Jaguar announced it is working with F1 Williams to develop C-X75, a $1.1 million dollar hybrid SUPERCAR. Imagine blowing passed a Prius in one of those babies.

According to Wired, Adrian Hallmark, Jaguar’s brand director said:

“The C-X75 received an incredible reception as a concept car. We’ve been building on that momentum and there is a clear business case for this exclusive halo model. No other vehicle will better signify Jaguar’s renewed confidence and excellence in technological innovation than this.”

Worried about the side effects of old age and the those endless days you spent tanning by the pool? Well, a new technology developed by the Fraunhofer Institute may help take some of the edge off. According to CNET, researchers in Germany have developed a sleek, flat microscope capable of imaging suspicious areas of skin for skin cancer.

The design uses multiple tiny optical sensors to scan and stitch together a bigger, clearer image of affected areas. According to Fraunhofer’s website:

Each slice is roughly 300 x 300 µm² in size and fits seamlessly alongside the neighboring slice; a computer program then assembles these to generate the overall picture. The difference between this technology and a scanner microscope: all of the image slices are recorded simultaneously.

The imaging system consists of three glass plates with the tiny lenses applied to them, both on top and beneath. These three glass plates are then stacked on top of one another. Each channel also contains two achromatic lenses, so the light passes through a total of eight lenses.

The company says it will take another couple of years before it reaches the market, and eventually, will be mass produced and available to everyone for relatively cheap.

Ever played Angry Birds? Think you’re pretty good? Well guess what, you actually suck at it compared to the robot OptoFidelity developed that can nail 3 stars on every level, no problem. Check out the video above to have your mind blown.

Lastly, Groupon and Live Nation announced that they will be partnering together to launch a new online ticketing deals channel, called GrouponLive.

GrouponLive, which will launch “in time for the summer concert season,” the companies said in a statement, will utilize Groupon’s local reach to market event tickets sold through Live Nation. This sounds like a match made in heaven for these two companies. To get details, those interested can sign up for the service at grouponlive.com.

With the Zaarly launch just around the corner, it looks like 2011 is already shaping up to be a very exciting year in tech.


Social Networking Brings Us Together

According to the Facebook statistic page, there are currently more than 500 million active Facebook users. Simply by posting a picture and writing a bio, people create their viral “self,” and interact with “friends” behind a computerized screen through the tips of our fingers. They relay messages through comments, status updates, and chat box messages, totaling over 700 billion minutes per month.

Some argue that’s a lot of time spent without actual human contact, maybe too much time. They worry these actions could lead to a generation of isolation, where individuals who no longer value face-to-face communication; where individuals are no longer “connected” to each other.

I, however, beg to differ.

Although we may be interacting increasingly on an online platform, that doesn’t have to mean we are headed towards isolation. It goes without saying that sites like Facebook, Twitter, and Blogger, give people the opportunity to instantly communicate with loved ones, and keep in touch with the high school buddies they thought they’d never see again. But it goes further than that.

As a generation, we now have the ability to instantly communicate with someone on the other side of the world. If time travel is the quickest way from point A to point B, then social networking users may be bending time and space without even knowing it. Add in Google Translate, and this opens up an endless amount of possibilities in terms of learning about other cultures and expanding our self-consciousness. Breaking down language barriers is unarguably a step towards global connectedness.

Social networking sites also give us the ability to let family members and loved ones know we are “OK” in the case of an emergency, especially if unreliable phone lines and methods of transportation aren’t accessible. In fact, in the case of the most recent Japan Tsunami, social networking is reported to have saved many lives.

The 8.9 magnitude earthquake and subsequent tsunami that hit the Fukushima power plant left thousands of people dead and many more missing. The disaster demolished buildings and rail lines, left telephone networks congested, and caused electrical black outs, cutting off communication between those who needed it the most.

However, by utilizing web-based sites like Twitter, Facebook, and Mixi, people all around the world were able to get instant updates on the statuses of friends and family, as well as donate to those in need. Those involved in relief efforts even took to Twitter and posted information about emergency phone lines for non-Japanese speakers to tsunami alerts, altered train schedules and lists of shelters for those left homeless.

As technology advances, we will continue to realize the Internet’s potential as a way to connect humans and put power back in their hands.

This is especially the case with the new buyer and seller market-oriented website Zaarly. With Zaarly, users are able to find what they want in their area, say their price, and get it. There’s no waiting in line and no managers trying to sell you what you don’t need. Users utilize a Twilio powered  phone number to connect instantly, get what they ask for, and get on with their day. It’s that easy.

Brad Shimmin, an analyst at Current Analysis, agrees. We are connected:

“While there are so many technologies at this time that isolate us from our fellow beings, social networking tools have shown their ability once again to unify us as human beings, and to bring out what is most altruistic and empathetic in our natures.”

Cash or Credit? How about neither!

Yesterday I pulled into a badly needed Exxon service station in the city of Santa Monica, where two observations struck me.

First, $4.45 is an egregious price to pay for a gallon of regular grade gasoline. You loyal Zaarly followers reading this from Rock Springs, Wyoming, enjoy your national low of $3.49. Oil futures be damned!

Second, the woman at the adjacent service pump conducted her entire payment transaction without cash, debit, or credit. There was no shiny plastic to dip into a card reader. No Abe or Alexander or Andrew to part with. The woman simply waved a tiny inch-long device across a scanner and moments later started pumping. No fuss, no muss, no bother.

What Exxon refers to as its “contactless” payment system (aka Speedpass) has been around for a while, I’d just never seen it in action until yesterday. The transaction itself didn’t introduce me to any revolutionary tech advancement or even inspire me to sign up for Speedpass, instead it served simply to reinforce the undeniable and irreversible direction in which our consumer payment world is headed. I suppose it comes down to three simple words: Smaller. Faster. Easier

But how did we get here? My grandfather drove across this country from the Great Lakes to the Pacific Ocean in a Model-T Ford way back in the 1920s and I’m fairly confident he filled his tank using good old U.S. greenbacks.  The reality was there simply weren’t any payment alternatives to cash, be it for gasoline, groceries, or gumballs. So before examining the current state of consumer payment options and the innovative future ahead, lets roll back the clock…way back.

The evolution of our modern day payment options are rooted some 4,000 years ago. Historians suspect the first use of money took the form of receipts, representing documented ownership of grain storage in Ancient Egypt. Receipts gave way to the rise of coinage in the form of valuable metals (e.g. copper, silver, gold), before those clever Chinese introduced paper money, or banknotes, around 600 A.D.

Fast forward through the next 1,400 years of payment evolution and jump right to 1949 and a fateful business dinner in midtown Manhattan between Frank McNamara and Ralph Schneider. Having forgotten his wallet and cash, McNamara saw an opportunity in providing a payment alternative to cash and set about developing the first modern day credit card. A year later the Diners Club Card was born.

In 1950, Diners Club issued its first card, made of cardboard, for use in 27 restaurants in New York City. A year later, nearly 20,000 Americans carried it in their wallet.

However, until 1958, no one had been able to create a successful revolving credit instrument that could facilitate merchant transactions on a meaningful scale. All that changed when Bank of America launched the BankAmericard and American Express issued the “Don’t Leave Home Without It” card. Nearly a decade later the ancestor of MasterCard was born when a group of California banks established Master Charge to compete with BankAmericard.

By the mid 1970s, with international credit card use gaining momentum, the tag “America” was dropped from the original BankAmericard card and VISA was born. Two years later, in 1979, Master Charge followed suit and changed its name to MasterCard.

U.S. adoption of this new payment method would help define our national consumer culture identify and forever change the American consumer marketplace. Just how much has the U.S. public come to embrace and rely on that 3.3” by 2.1” rectangular piece of plastic for all its ease, speed, and instant-gratification power?

The three main pillars that enable our credit payment addiction reported the following figures on total card circulation in the U.S. (through year-end 2010, unless otherwise noted):

  • American Express credit: 48.9 million (Source: AmericanExpress.com)
  • MasterCard credit: 171 million (Source: MasterCard)
  • MasterCard debit: 123 million (Source: MasterCard)
  • Visa credit: 269 million, as of Sept. 30, 2010 (Source: Visa)
  • Visa debit: 397 million, as of Sept. 30, 2010 (Source: Visa)

That’s one and a half credit cards for each man, woman, and child living in America (slightly higher – 1.7 – for debit cards)! More representative of wide spread card adoption since introduction in the 1950s are the following stats from the U.S. Census Bureau:

  • Individual U.S. credit cardholders (1950) – >50,000
  • Individual U.S. credit cardholders (2000) – 159,000,000
  • Individual U.S. credit cardholders (2006) – 173,000,000 (+9%)
  • Individual U.S. credit cardholders (2010) – 181,000,000 (+5%)

We’ve gone from zero to 60% of the American population possessing a credit card in sixty years. Now that’s product adoption!

But let’s face it, we’ve grown to enjoy the path of least resistance. We tend to adopt that which makes our lives faster, easier, less cumbersome, and less stressful. The credit card is instantaneous, simple to use, virtually weightless, and the ultimate tool for deferment of poor-decision-making guilt! Is there really any surprise behind its global growth after sixty years? Human nature says no.

Similar to the advent and adoption of the 20th century credit card, we now find ourselves witnessing the next stage in the payment evolutionary process. Receipts led to coins, coins to paper notes, and paper to credit cards. Now, enabled by revolutionary advances such as smartphone and wireless technology, the credit card will soon abdicate its throne in favor of the next payment innovation iteration.

This time however the change won’t stem from one innovative product. The innovation won’t be a tweak to the coin or banknote or credit card. Instead the future of payment will be driven by changes not to the individual players but rather the playing field itself.

Sorry cash, sorry credit. The future is about to change. Move over George and make way. Smaller, faster and easier means one thing… MOBILE.