Wednesday, September 24, 2014
How would you like to trim three hours off the current commercial jet flight time between Paris and Washington, D.C.?
Or two hours and 48 minutes off the flight between New York and Sao Paulo?
Or two and a half hours between Tokyo and Singapore?
With its Aerion AS2 supersonic business jet, the Nevada-based Aerion Corporation aims to do just that.
Now it has a gigantic new partner to help it realize those ambitions: Airbus.
The two companies announced this week that they'll collaborate on technologies and "capabilities in design, manufacturing and certification" to advance the development of the AS2.
"This is a major step forward for Aerion," said Aerion chairman and principal investor, Robert M. Bass in a statement. "It puts us solidly on track toward our objective of certifying the world's first supersonic business jet in 2021."
"This agreement accomplishes two major objectives," said Aerion CEO Doug Nichols. "It provides validation from the industry leader in aerospace innovation, and it decisively kicks the program into high gear. Each company will benefit."
Aerion was founded in 2002 with the intention of commercializing supersonic aviation technology.
Expertise from Airbus' Defence and Space Division
Using its proprietary supersonic laminar flow technology, Aerion says the AS2 will fly at Mach 1.6 (1,217 mph).
The Airbus group's Defence and Space Division will provide technical and certification support to Aerion, with its engineers working with the company in Nevada.
According to the U.S.-based aviation consulting firm Leeham Company, the aircraft's engine partner hasn't yet been announced.
Aerion says the AS2's newly designed wings reduce overall drag by 20%, allowing for lower fuel consumption and longer range.
Its 30-foot-long cabin is forecast to seat up to 12 passengers in business-style comfort.
All seats can be berthed to sleep four on overnight flights.
The projected price of the AS2 is more than $100 million.
Aerion hopes to begin test flights by 2019.
Race to develop supersonic biz jets
A handful of companies are developing private supersonic business jets.
Boston-based Spike Aerospace's S-512 Supersonic Jet is designed to fly at Mach 1.6, while seating 12 to 18 passengers.
The company says the plane will fly from London to New York in three hours and from Los Angeles to Tokyo in six hours.
UK-based HyperMach is developing the SonicStar, a business jet it claims will be capable of reaching Mach 4 (about 2,600 mph, or almost twice the speed of the Concorde), and which it says will be able to make the flight from New York to Dubai "in the time it takes to watch an inflight movie."
The company has said the plane could enter production in the 2020s.
The world's only supersonic passenger jet service ended in October 2003 when British Airways retired the Concorde from service.
The Concorde had a cruising speed of 1,350 mph, more than twice the speed of sound. A typical London to New York flight took a little less than three and a half hours, as opposed to about eight hours for subsonic flights.
Modern commercial long-haul jets typically cruise at speeds between 480 and 560 mph.
Friday, September 12, 2014
A government drive to expand banking services in India is giving a boost to home-grown card payment network RuPay, which expects to quadruple the number of users by March and make debit cards more acceptable in a nation where cash is still king.
Started in 2012 by a company owned by 10 local and foreign banks, RuPay competes with global payment firms Visa Inc and MasterCard Inc for the few customers in Asia's third largest economy able to afford a debit or credit card.
As of July, banks issued just under 435 million payment cards in India, a nation of 1.3 billion people. Most were debit cards.
RuPay's share of daily card transactions, however, remains small compared to the global firms, which are more established, offer both debit and credit cards and are accepted by more retailers. RuPay currently offers only debit cards.
RuPay users account for just 1.5 per cent of daily card transactions of almost one million at retailers, said A.P. Hota, chief executive of the National Payments Corp of India (NPCI), which runs RuPay.
Hota told Reuters the payments network was set to grow rapidly from the government's so-called financial inclusion scheme, which aims to ensure the majority of households has a bank account within months.
Under the scheme launched late in August, Indians who open a bank account for the first time automatically get a RuPay card.
Hota said the number of RuPay users has now almost doubled from 23 million at the end of July.
By March next year, he expects that number to rise to 160 million, with more than 60 per cent of the increase coming from the government scheme.
"Jan Dhan itself would provide a big opportunity for the domestic card brand to be a formidable force," said Hota, referring to the financial inclusion scheme, Jan Dhan Yojana, which means People's Wealth Scheme.
"(RuPay Card transactions are) just a drop in the ocean at the moment. But drop by drop we are increasing our size."
NPCI is also trying to lure more customers by charging banks lower fees than Visa and MasterCard, Hota added.
Visa and MasterCard did not reply to Reuters' requests seeking comment.
NPCI's shareholders include India's biggest bank, the State Bank of India, and foreign lenders Citibank and HSBC. The Reserve Bank of India bank has a nominee on its board.
The organisation plans to launch RuPay cards that will be accepted overseas through a partnership with Discover Financial Services, Hota said, and is also in talks with Japanese card network JCB about a partnership.
RuPay had aimed to issue credit cards by March 2015, but those plans have now been delayed by the government scheme, Hota said. "Rural acceptance of the Jan Dhan cards will be our priority," he added.
Wednesday, September 10, 2014
Four times before in its history, at media events planned with military precision, Apple introduced a new invention that radically altered how the technology industry conceived of its future. The company hopes it did that again for a fifth time on Tuesday by unveiling the Apple Watch, a stylish smartwatch that is the company's first advance into a new product category since it created the iPad in 2010.
Yet in some ways, the most consequential headline at the event went unannounced. The biggest news was about the old Apple: It's back, and it's more capable than ever.
Any question about how well Tim Cook, Apple's chief executive, is managing the reins of the world's most valuable company will most likely be put to rest after Tuesday's profusion of product announcements at the Flint Center in Cupertino, California, where Steve Jobs first showed off the Macintosh in 1984.
The announcements included two large-screen iPhones and a new electronic payment system that allows users to make purchases at stores through their phones.
Apple, under Cook, looks every bit as daunting to rivals as it did under its iconic co-founder, Jobs.
Both the new watch and the payment system, Apple Pay, appear to be of a level of polish that suggests the company still possesses the capacity to invent new products and services that can define an entire industry. And the two iPhones will most likely prove that Cook can still do what has long been Apple's bread and butter: incrementally improving its top-performing products in ways that keep them just ahead of rivals.
But more important is that Apple, under Cook, is operating at a scale it never achieved under Jobs. It is creating more new hardware and software, and tying all of its products together more seamlessly than most of its rivals. In responding to customer demand to offer bigger phones, and in granting outside developers deeper access to its mobile operating system, Cook has also signaled a slightly more open philosophy at Apple. The firm is not as ideologically rigid about how people use its products as it once was.
It remains to be seen whether Apple can make good on all of the promises it made on Tuesday. Its new phones will be out this month, and its payment system will be operational in October. The Apple Watch will not be in stores until next year.
After a hack last month that resulted in the leak of several celebrities' private photos from their online Apple accounts, the company's push to persuade people to use its devices to engage in commerce and to track their health may face skepticism.
Price is also a persistent question: From its phones to its new watch, which starts at $349, Apple is selling a digital lifestyle at a cost that exceeds that of many of its rivals.
Yet many users won't balk at paying for the convenience and prestige of using Apple's products.
Apple set out to solve two problems with its media event, the importance of one of which Cook had been telegraphing in earnings calls for years.
First, it needed to make something - anything - new. One persistent criticism of Cook is that while he has been an able steward of Apple's finances, he lacks the capacity to bring forth the kind of industry-defining new products for which Jobs was famous. Cook is "a master of spreadsheets, not innovation," as Yukari Iwatani Kane, a former reporter for The Wall Street Journal, put it earlier this year in a book that became the high-water mark for Apple criticism.
Never mind that this assessment of Cook often rang hollow, and seemed to deeply misunderstand how Apple operates. Though it has cultivated a reputation for frequently reinventing everything, what's most remarkable about Apple's history isn't how many totally novel devices it has released, but how few.
Since the 1980s, Apple has invented four new computing platforms - the Mac, the iPod, the iPhone, and the iPad - that have been revolutionary. But in each of the intervening periods between new platforms, Apple looked remarkably similar to the company under Cook. Each year it put out slight, useful updates to existing products, features that were cheered by customers while roundly jeered by the tech press as yet more unimpressive incrementalism.
The ultimate success of Apple's smartwatch, and its lasting utility to users, won't be known for months or years to come. But its introduction ought to squash the charge that the company - and Cook - can't invent anything new.
At first blush, the devices look to be following in the footsteps of the original iPhone or iPad, which were not brand-new ideas but were just superior versions of what other products already did.
As Cook described it, the smartwatch will perform functions similar to those of the many wrist devices that Apple's competitors, including Samsung, have released over the last few years. At its most basic, the Apple Watch is a quick interface to your phone, allowing you to respond to messages or look up directions at a glance. It also tracks your activity, allowing you to monitor your workouts and daily level of activity.
Still - at least as Apple demonstrated it - what the watch does, it does better than its competitors, with more impressive hardware and a software interface that looks easier to use. The device is stunning to look at, with a variety of faces and watchbands that bear more in common with luxury jewelry than with gadgets. That's far more than can be said of many ungainly watches and fitness bands that many other companies have put out.
Left unstated was any word on battery life, which has been a major shortcoming for other smartwatches. If it needs to be charged daily, or worse, in the middle of a day, users may resist.
Apple's second aim at its media event was to shore up a persistent weakness in its iPhone lineup. While it commands the vast majority of the profits in the smartphone industry, Apple, in the last few years, has been losing some high-end business to rivals with bigger devices, especially its main competitor, Samsung, which has long been the leading purveyor of giant phones.
Apple had historically held out against the wave of giant phones. Jobs called them "Hummers," referring to the large sport utility vehicle, and insisted that "you can't get your hand around" large phones.
Now, though humanity has not been granted a new set of monster paws, Apple has relented. Its new phones are both wider and taller than any previous iPhones. The larger 5.5-inch model is positively gigantic, a device on which one would look fairly foolish trying to make a phone call.
You can call this Apple's capitulation to market demand. You can also call it savvy. In one stroke, Apple has undercut one of the main reasons for Samsung's ascendance at the high end of the smartphone market. That's not a bad outcome for a device that was almost an afterthought at its launch event.
Apple Inc unveiled a watch, two larger iPhones and a mobile payments service on Tuesday as Chief Executive Officer Tim Cook seeks to revive the technology company's reputation as a wellspring of innovation.
The first new product to be developed and introduced under Cook's reign is a timepiece tethered to the iPhone that will combine health and fitness tracking with communications. It will price at $349 and go on sale in early 2015.
First impressions were mixed. Some expected Apple to blow away the current competition but others warned the fact that it requires a paired iPhone may limit its sales.
Starting at $349 - $50 more than the cheapest version of the iPhone 6 with a contract, the lofty price tag may also keep some consumers on the sidelines. It could go up to more than $1,000 for higher-end editions, IDC analyst Danielle Levitas said.
The Apple Watch can receive phone calls and messages, play music, serve as a digital wallet to pay for goods and monitor heart rates via special sensors. The watches will come in three collections, including a sport edition and an upscale line coated in 18-karat gold.
"People are kind of scratching their heads on this watch, especially the fact that to successfully use the watch and to take advantage of its capabilities, you also have to have an iPhone," said Daniel Morgan, vice president at Synovus Trust Company in Atlanta. "I don't know if they're in the right direction with this iWatch."
Still, rival watch and wearable device makers will keep a wary eye on Apple, which upended the music industry and drove once-dominant phone makers like Blackberry to the brink of extinction.
Sony Corp, Samsung, LG Electronics Inc and Qualcomm Inc have already launched smartwatches, albeit without much success.
"Not the knockout some were anticipating. A bit gimmicky also on the health end of the wearable bands market," said Jon Cox, an analyst of Swiss watch companies at brokerage Kepler Cheuvreux in Zurich.
"Not as cool as I feared. Nick Hayek is probably sleeping a little easier tonight," Cox said, referring to the chief executive of Swatch Group.
Shares of the company closed just a tad higher after having risen almost 5 per cent before executives trotted out the watch. The stock tends to rise in the run-up to a major product launch, and come under selling pressure afterward as investors cash out.
Buy With Bigger Phones
The watch is unlikely to increase Apple's top-line. Estimates vary but IDC expects total global demand of 42 million smartwatches in 2015. Apple sells that many or more iPhones in a good quarter.
But the pressure was on for the world's largest tech company to wow on Tuesday, after a years-long drought of products beyond new iPhones and iPads. The prospect of a new gadget attracted a broader swathe of attendees than usual, with celebrities, fashion industry editors and even healthcare executives rounding out the mostly tech-industry crowd.
In a rare move, Apple had planned on livecasting its entire event online, with a simultaneous translation in Chinese. But the livestream went down about a half-hour in, prompting many users to take to Twitter to express their frustrations.
Also on Tuesday, the company took the wraps off a larger, 4.7-inch iPhone 6 and 5.5-inch iPhone 6 Plus. They will support more than 200 telecoms carriers worldwide, including all three in China - a key growth market for the company.
And it introduced a new mobile payments service dubbed "Apple Pay." Each phone will come equipped with its new payments service, which launches in the United States next month and allows users to pay for items in stores with their phones instead of physically presenting their credit or debit cards.
Launch partners include Walt Disney Co, McDonald's and Whole Foods. The move gives Apple access to a trove of data on how consumers shop in brick and mortar stores, where more than 90 per cent of US retail sales are still conducted.
Each new iPhone will come with a "secure element" chip and a near-field communications, or NFC, antenna.
Ben Milne, CEO of Internet payment network Dwolla, wanted to hear a lot more about how Apple will tackle the aging payments infrastructure. Apple Pay should get some level of mass adoption based on the number of iPhones out there, but Apple will have to tackle the current high costs of payment processing to make its new feature more widespread, he said.
"The old architecture that payments are driven on is not up to snuff for the future they want to build," Milne said.
With its new mobile payment system, Apple is likely to use its market power to accelerate adoption of smarter retail payment technology and boost security amid growing concern over hacking.
Apple, as part of an ambitious series of product announcements Tuesday, unveiled its "Apple Pay" system that will allow consumers with the upcoming iPhones to tap their handsets at retailers instead of using debit or credit cards.
Apple chief Tim Cook said the Apple Pay system would replace an "antiquated payment process" with "an entirely new" system offering greater convenience and security.
Cook said that each day in the United States, alone, "that's 200 million times that we scramble through our credit cards and go through what is a fairly antiquated payment process."
Apple Pay will use a dedicated secure chip that communicates with a retail terminal through a near-field communication (NFC) antenna in the phone.
Even though this technology has been available for years, adoption in the US has been slow because of competing standards, analysts said.
Cook said other efforts have failed because the companies introducing mobile wallets were working on the basis of "their self-interest" instead of the user experience.
Banks lined up
Apple has lined up most of the largest US banks for the system, and many big retail outlets have agreed to install compatible payment terminals.
This helps solve the "chicken and egg" conundrum that has prevented widespread adoption of mobile payments, said Roger Kay at Endpoint Technologies.
"You need consumers to get the enabled systems, and retailers and banks to process all that," Kay told AFP.
"No one wanted to move before anyone else did. So if Apple gathers a group of partners, it may establish a base of functionality that will work."
Apple Pay supports credit and debit cards from American Express, MasterCard and Visa, issued by banks including Bank of America, Capital One, Chase, Citi and Wells Fargo, representing 83 percent of credit card purchase volume in the US.
The payment system will launch in October at some 200,000 retail locations, including Bloomingdale's, Duane Reade, Macy's, McDonald's, Sephora, Staples, Subway, Walgreens and Whole Foods Market.
"Security and privacy is at the core of Apple Pay," said Apple vice president Eddy Cue.
"When you're using Apple Pay in a store, restaurant or other merchant, cashiers will no longer see your name, credit card number or security code, helping to reduce the potential for fraud.
"Apple doesn't collect your purchase history, so we don't know what you bought, where you bought it or how much you paid for it."
Payments can also be made through the new Apple Watch, which will allow users of older iPhones to use the system.
Igniting interest in mobile
"Apple Pay will ignite consumers' interest in mobile payments by providing a seamless, secure, and easy way to pay both in store and on the go," said Denee Carrington at Forrester Research.
"By partnering with the leading merchants across retail, grocery, drugstore and dining, consumers can use Apple Pay with merchants they shop every day - which will accelerate the growth of mobile payments in the US," she said.
Gartner researchers predicted recently that mobile payments would top $721 billion, with some 450 million users, by 2017, but noted that growth has been sluggish in North America.
Eden Zoller at the research firm Ovum said Apple's launch "is nothing new in the m-payments space," but noted that "if anyone can help make this happen then it is probably Apple, although it will need strong partnerships."
And research firm IHS noted that "Apple holds a number of advantages" over others because "it already has millions of user credit card details on file from Apple IDs, which users can choose to simply add to Apple Pay."
IHS said Apple already has strong software and hardware integration to store information and that by focusing on hardware sales it does not need Apple Pay to generate additional revenues.
Endpoint's Kay said some questions remain, notably whether Apple will allow rivals to tap into the system
"Apple doesn't alway play well with others," he said. "Apple is jealous about how it holds technology to its chest."
If other players in the sector want to use a different system for Android devices, "that may be an inhibitor because a lot of people don't have Apple phones," Kay said.
The 24-karat gold iPhone 6 handset is named 'Amosu 24ct Gold IPhone 6' and is already up for pre-orders for GBP 2,399 (roughly Rs. 2,35,800) from the official Alexander Amosu website. Interested buyers have the option to engrave their name or their company's name on the back panel of the handset. As a part of a deal, Alexander Amosu website is also offering a leather cover worth GBP 150 (roughly Rs. 14,700) for the iPhone 6, free of cost for those users who pre-order the smartphone before September 12.
The 'Amosu Call of Diamond iPhone 6' shares the gold-plated body as seen on Amosu 24ct Gold IPhone 6, however this time in 18-karat gold. The Amosu Call of Diamond iPhone 6 comes additionally studded with 6,127 VVS1 diamonds and one big 51.29 carat diamond exactly cut to the shape of Apple logo. Made over two months of time, the hand-set, diamond-studded iPhone 6 is priced at GBP 1.7 million (roughly Rs. 16.7 crores), as per GSMArena.
The luxury brand has not made any premium versions of the iPhone 6 Plus as of now. However, another brand named Falcon has already gone ahead and listed the iPhone 6 Plus handsets with a number of diamond-studded options on its website.
Unlike Amosu Call of Diamond iPhone 6, the Falcon's iPhone 6 Plus boasts just one big diamond on the back panel of the handset, placed between the Apple logo and the 'iPhone' engraving. The handsets come in three different categories based on the material used for their build - Platinum, 24K Gold and Rose Gold.