12/07/2018

8 Tech Trends to Keep Your Eye on in 2018

8 Tech Trends to Keep Your Eye on in 2018

Five tech companies made up a whopping 37 percent of the S&P 500's total gains in 2017. How much more proof do you need than that?

8 Tech Trends to Keep Your Eye on in 2018

Nearly 60 years ago, Gordon Moore, the co-founder of Intel, coined "Moore's Law," a prediction that would set the pace for the digital revolution. The law stated that computing abilities, over time, would radically increase in power while decreasing in relative cost, all at an exponential rate.
This insight, along with the hard work of many computer scientists and engineers, has fueled the rapid growth of the technology sector. The industry has quickly become a staple component of our modern economy.
The five biggest technology companies (Apple, Alphabet, Facebook, Amazon and Microsoft) together made up a whopping 37 percent of the S&P 500's total gains in 2017. Federal investments in the digital sector could reach up to $95 billion in the coming year. And, internationally, the public will spend up to $3.4 trillion on digital services by 2020.
Consumers and enterprises have a lot of potential to look forward to, as frontier technologies finally become affordable enough to service the mass markets.
So, what exactly will 2018 have in store? Here are eight tech trends to keep your eye on:

1. Blockchain

By now, you have probably heard a thing or two about the promise of blockchain and Bitcoin. At a high level, blockchain technology is a way of securely managing access and information. The core of blockchain hinges on the idea of decentralization, which essentially distributes power and risk equitably across players in a network.
Blockchain startups are finding niche and clever ways to optimize industries, by replacing intermediary parties (brokers, agents, etc.) with smart contracts that automatically verify actions without compromising data security. Platforms likeGameflip and Filecoin are able to solve fundamental marketplace challenges, worth billions of dollars, which have been terrorizing ecosystems for decades.
Other companies, like SparkleCoin, are driving blockchain adoption at scale by empowering everyday consumers to purchase real-world products and services from the world's largest online retailers using cryptocurrencies.

2. Internet of things

BI Intelligence's report on the "internet of things" notes that nearly $6 trillion will be spent on IoT solutions in the next five years alone. This deluge of investment has turned this once science-fictional notion into reality.
Already, many of us wake up in our "smart beds" to a Bluetooth-connected alarm clock that communicates with our wifi-enabled speakers. Soon all of our devices -- microwaves, washing machines and even bird feeders -- will be connected to the web. With geospatial data from all of our devices, tech-savvy companies will be able to optimize and automate systems, eradicating inefficiencies caused by human error.

3. Virtual reality

Is 2018 the long-awaited year that virtual reality goes mainstream? While the technology is still evolving, and while players like Oculus and HTC continue to iterate on their consoles, things look promising for the industry as VR platforms begin to appeal to the masses.
One of the biggest obstacles to virtual reality achieving true scale is the creation of enough content to attract a wide swath of consumers. As the industry has learned, onboarding hard-core gamers will not be enough to sustain a long-term effort.
Beyond gaming, there a number of virtual-reality startups that are building high-value-add services specifically for enterprises.

4. Augmented reality

The rise of Pok√©mon in 2016 was just the first of many implementations of augmented reality that will make a massive impact on society. Apple and Google recently introduced both ARKit and ARCore and are driving an inflection point for the industry. As hardware and software continue to improve, we can expect to see more developers building AR applications in 2018.
It's not just startups looking to get in on the action. In fact, it is likely that many of the world's biggest brands will invest their resources into creating augmented-reality experiences to enhance their users' experiences both inside and outside of their stores.

5. Chatbots

Enterprise applications of messaging bots seem poised to have a tangible impact on the software space, as more companies invest in developing their own consumer-facing bots. Chatbots, at the most simplistic level, are front-end interfaces for companies to communicate with their customers. More advanced bots leverage artificial intelligence to provide enriching and interactive user experiences.
Companies can embed these bots on their home pages, or they can rely on native platforms like Facebook and Slack for distribution. Expect to see companies across all industries, including hospitality, dining and travel, create bots for customer support, sales and marketing services.

6. Subscription model

The days of "pay-per-use" costing are long gone, and are likely not coming back anytime soon, as most companies are switching to recurring revenue models. Already, you can order your clothing, groceries and cleaning supplies to be delivered directly to your doorstep on a weekly or monthly basis.
And the model is being applied more widely than just to physical goods: Most internet companies are operating under a "software as a service" model, where you pay a monthly fee on a recurring cycle for a service.
We can expect to see startups expand their subscription businesses into more verticals, and to start specializing.

7. Ecommerce

Next year, 2018, may finally be the year ecommerceovertakes retail once and for all. In a report on online retail, Forrester stated that 83 percent of U.S. adults purchased something on Amazon this past year. As this number grows, and digital storefronts become a more convenient and attractive option for consumers, we can expect to see ecommerce begin to take bigger slices of the retail pie.
It will be interesting to see which incumbents are able to establish a large enough digital presence to protect themselves from this disruption.

8. Automation

Artificial intelligence and machines will soon become ubiquitous in the professional world. From virtual assistants, to manual labor,to intermediary services, many jobs will likely be disrupted in the coming years. Though humans are indispensable in certain fields, there are many points of optimization that we can fully automate with embedded technology.
Machine intelligence has the potential to fundamentally shift worker demand and displace millions of jobs. Where will everyone go when machines can do our work for us? This question, among others, will be important considerations getting our rapt attention in 2018.
Website: https://www.entrepreneur.com/article/305439 

11/23/2018

SpeakSee makes it simple for a deaf person to join a group conversation

SpeakSee makes it simple for a deaf person to join a group conversation

speaksee
There’s a great deal of activity in the fields of speech recognition and the “Internet of Things,” but one natural application of the two has gone relatively unpursued: helping the deaf and hard of hearing take part in everyday conversations. SpeakSee aims to do this (after crowdfunding, naturally) with a clever hardware design that minimizes setup friction and lets everyone communicate naturally.
It’s meant to be used in situations where someone hard of hearing needs to talk with a handful of others — a meeting, a chat at dinner, asking directions and so on. There are speech-to-text apps out there that can transcribe what someone is saying, but they’re not really suited to the purpose.
“Many deaf people experienced a huge barrier in asking people to download the app and hold the phone close to their mouth. These limitations in the interface meant no one kept using it,” explainedSpeakSee  CEO and co-founder Jari Hazelebach. “But because we designed our own hardware, we were able to customize it towards the situations it will be used in.”
SpeakSee is simple to use: A set of clip-on microphones live in a little charger case, and when the user wants to have a conversation, they hand those microphones out to whoever will be talking. The case acts as a wireless hub for the mics and relays the audio to the smartphone with which it’s paired. This audio is sent off, transcribed quickly somewhere in the cloud, and displayed on the deaf user’s phone.
Critically, though, each microphone also intelligently and locally accounts for its speaker and background noise.
“Naturally the microphones pick up speech from multiple people,” said Hazelebach. “So we included sensors that tell the microphone what direction the sound is coming from, and the microphones exchange these values. So we can determine which microphone should pick up which person’s speech.”
The result is quickly transcribed speech divided by speaker, delivered quickly and with decent accuracy (there’s always a trade-off between turnaround time and how the process is). And no one has to do anything but wear a mic. (They have a patent pending for this multi-microphone system.)
Hazelebach’s parents are deaf, and he grew up seeing how their ability to interact in ordinary circumstances was being limited.
The mics aren’t exactly small… but that’s how you know they’re real working hardware and not imaginary.
“As you can imagine my parents were the first to test this out,” he said. “At first we had a lot of issues but soon we started engaging with others. We wrote a post on a deaf blog and out of nowhere 200 people signed up. So we’ve been testing in the field with groups in the U.S., and also in the U.K. and the Netherlands.”
Right now English speech recognition is considerably ahead of Dutch and other languages, so the transcriptions will be better for the former, but even so the devices should work with any of 120 languages supported by the cloud service. Transcription is free for up to 5 hours of audio monthly, after which it’s a $10/month subscription. But if it works, it may be more than worth the money.
The team has a finished prototype but is seeking crowdfunding to get production off the ground. “We need to improve the electronics to meet specifications, battery life for example. We expect to ship in February of 2019,” Hazelebach said. Pre-orders are set at $350 for a dock and three mics.
The usual caveats (primarily “emptor”) apply when backing an Indiegogo type campaign — but at the very least, having spoken to the creator, I feel pretty sure this is a real, working product that just needs a boost to get to market.
Website: https://techcrunch.com/2018/06/18/speaksee-makes-it-simple-for-a-deaf-person-to-join-a-group-conversation/

11/09/2018

The rise of the cashless city: 'There is this real danger of exclusion'

Cities from Sweden to India are pushing for a totally cash-free society. But as more shops and transport networks insist on electronic payments, where does this leave the smallest traders and poorest inhabitants?

Homeless man begs in London

Scrolling through my online bank statements at Christmas, I was surprised to find I had not removed cash from an ATM for well over four months. Thanks to the ubiquity of electronic payment systems, it has become increasingly easy to glide around London to a chorus of approving bleeps.
As more shops and transport networks adapt to contactless card and touch-and-go mobile technology, many major cities around the world are in the process of relegating cash to second-class status. Some London shops and cafes are now, like the capital’s buses, simply refusing to handle notes or coins.
Could we see a whole city go cash-free? From Seoul to Bergamo, cities big and small are at the forefront of a global drive to go digital. Many of us are happy to tap cards or phones to hop on a bus, buy a coffee or pay for groceries, but it raises the prospect of a time we no longer carry any cash at all.
No spare change for the busker at the station, the person sleeping rough in need of a hot drink, the market trader, the donation box. Although even on-street charity fundraisers are now broaching the world of contactless payments, what might the rise of the cashless city mean for street vendors, small merchants and the poorest inhabitants?
Some experts now fear a two-tier urban realm in which those on the lowest incomes become disconnected from mainstream commercial life by their dependence on traditional forms of currency.
“The beauty of cash is that it’s a direct and simple transaction between all kinds of different people, no matter how rich or poor,” explains financial writer Dominic Frisby. “If you begin to insist on cashlessness, it does put pressure on you to be banked and signed up to financial system, and many of the poorest are likely to remain outside of that system. So there is this real danger of exclusion.”
Ajay Banga, Mastercard’s CEO, has spoken about the growing global risk of “creating islands, where the unbanked transact [only] with each other”.
In India, the question of how the poorest might connect with the digitised world of the middle-class consumer is now of central importance. In November, the prime minister Narendra Modi announced the removal of 500 and 1000 rupee notes from circulation. Part of a wider attempt to jolt the nation into joining the cashless revolution, Modi’s government believes restricting currency and pushing the take-up of electronic payment will help tackle corruption and regulate India’s untaxed, “black” economy.
A customer uses a credit card to make a contactless payment.
Saurabh Shukla, the Delhi-based editor in chief at NewsMobile Asia, says he has seen many small “mom and pop” store owners introduce card readers and learn how to use Paytm, a mobile payment platform, over the past two months.
“They realise a big change is here and they are trying to adjust to electronic payment,” he explains. “But they still want to convert back to cash at the end of the working day or the working week. It will be a gradual adjustment. We might not be able to create a completely cashless India, but we can aim to create a low cash economy.”
Modi is encouraging state government to create “smart” cities by connecting their public services with the latest online technology. Officials are aiming to make the Chandigarh – famously designed by modernist architect Le Corbusier – India’s first cashless city by insisting all bills are paid electronically at government offices. And the government of Goa is attempting to turn its capital Panjim cash-free by offering discounts in digitally bought services like train tickets, and by setting up classrooms to teach small traders e-payment technology.
Yet huge queues remain outside banks as many Indians continue to demand cash. Some of the poorest street vendors cannot afford card readers, and have struggled to operate Paytm payment transfers on their mobile phones.
Aires Rodrigues, a human rights lawyer in Goa, says traders in Panjim are suffering. Rickshaw drivers and fish market sellers have been left with no way of accepting payment from middle-class customers now inclined to do everything digitally. “It’s senseless to try to make everyone go cashless,” says Rodrigues. “The government seems to have lost sight of the plight of the common man.”
If India’s urbanites are being forced to undergo digital shock therapy, city dwellers in much of Europe have been moving steadily away from cash. Consumers like convenience. Governments like the idea of tax transparency. And retailers like cutting down on the costs of cash handling.
People queue outside bank in Lucknow, India
According to a recent report by Fung Global Retail & Technology, nine of the top 15 “most digital-ready” countries are in Europe. It predicts Sweden could become the world’s first completely cashless society. Niklas Arvidsson at Stockholm’s KTH Royal Institute of Technology thinks it could happen by 2030.
Yet even Sweden has seen an enthusiasm gap emerge, mostly along demographic lines. Older people in the rural north, tending to be the least tech-savvy, resent the economic power of Stockholm and Gothenburg, now almost entirely cash-free urban zones. The National Pensioners Organisation is a key player in the “Cash Uprising” coalition now campaigning to make sure older Swedes can still deposit and remove cash from banks.
Wealth, however, remains the key factor in determining who might be entirely left behind by the evolving digital economy. Some of the poorest people in Europe’s richest cities have found themselves pushed aside.
In Amsterdam, homeless people selling street magazine Z!, the Dutch equivalent of The Big Issue, now struggle to find customers still using cash. Z! trialled card payments by giving a dozen of the city’s vendors iZettle readers back in 2013, but the method was deemed too cumbersome.
“After a few weeks, our vendors said, ‘Look, this is too complicated’,” says editor Hans van Dalfsen. “It became too clunky and time-consuming for the vendor to juggle their magazines, the card reader and their own mobile phone connected to Bluetooth – all that stuff was needed to carry out the transaction.”
Van Dalfsen says he is now talking to a major telecoms company to try to find a simpler way for homeless vendors to accept payment using only their mobile phones, perhaps with help of unique QR code on their ID badge.
M-Pesa Africa’s Mobile Money Market
“Like Scandinavia, we are close to being cashless in Amsterdam,” he says. “I’m an optimist, but we really need bright people in the tech companies to come up with simple, convenient solutions that work for everyone. We cannot let people become cut off from the life of the city.”
Like many of the world’s poorest people, much of Amsterdam’s homeless population remain without a bank account. So even if they own a mobile phone, most fall back to cash.
Kenya may offer a guiding light here, having found a way to allow unbanked citizens access into the cashless society using cheap mobiles. Launched in 2007, M-Pesa has become the world’s leading mobile money platform, allowing millions of users to transfer money to each other by sending text messages and store their funds digitally without opening a conventional bank account.
In Zimbabwe, last year’s cash liquidity crisis led to renewed distrust in the banks and helped mobile money platforms take off as an alternative way of doing business, first in the capital city Harare, then in rural areas. The country’s most popular text-based service EcoCash now has more than six million users.
“There has been a huge explosion in cashless payments, down to the very poorest street traders using mobile money solutions,” says Nigel Gambanga, a Harare-based technology analyst. “Everyone has begun to realise, ‘If I don’t figure this out, I might not be in business tomorrow.’ People are adaptable.”
Dave Birch, director of innovation at UK firm Consult Hyperion, thinks it would be foolish to insist on clinging on to cash on behalf of the poor. “If you keep people trapped in a cash economy, you leave them to pay higher prices for everything, you leave them struggling to access credit, and more vulnerable to theft,” he says.
“We’re going to replace cash with electronic platforms,” Birch adds. “I don’t think poverty or being unbanked is necessarily a barrier, because everyone has a phone. Given the technology we have, we can develop new ways of moving digital cash around, even on the most basic of phones.”
The challenge for banks, regulators, tech innovators and officials keen to push forward “smart city” initiatives, is to make sure evolving platforms are accessible and keep everyone interconnected.
If we cannot find a common payment ecosystem, we may find ourselves wandering through divided cities, separated by the sound of bleeps and the shuffling of cold, hard cash.
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Website: https://www.theguardian.com/cities/2017/jan/09/rise-cashless-city-contactless-payments-exclusion-cashfree-society 

10/26/2018

We’re moving toward a cashless society, and lots of people are going to be left behind

We’re moving toward a cashless society, and lots of people are going to be left behind

The tech industry has offered partial solutions to this inequity, but mostly in self-serving ways.


A version of this essay was originally published at Tech.pinions, a website dedicated to informed opinions, insight and perspective on the tech industry.


This week, I was driving in my neighborhood when I spotted that most American of sights — a bunch of kids running a lemonade stand, waving signs and trying to flag down passing cars. In some ways, it seemed like a great business opportunity — the temperatures where I live have rarely dipped below the high 90s lately. And yet I didn’t stop — not because I don’t like lemonade (or kids), but because I simply don’t carry cash anymore, and I’m fairly sure the neighbor children weren’t taking credit cards.
This got me thinking about all the people and sectors of our economy that are still dependent on cash, and how they might be affected by our increasingly cashless society.

Cash is in decline

Whether anecdotally or based on solid data, I think most of us have a sense that cash is in decline. One study from last year suggests that cash is the preferred payment method of just 11 percent of U.S. consumers, with 75 percent preferring cards. In other markets such as China, cash is dying out even more quickly, with mobile payments increasingly eating into both its share and that of cards. Though my local dry cleaner in New Jersey was a rare (and suspicious) exception, I very rarely come across businesses that don’t take cards, to the extent that it now really takes me aback when it happens. For many of us these days, credit and debit cards — and to a lesser extent, mobile payments — are making cash largely irrelevant. I still have a huge jar of loose change I accumulated over many years, and which now mostly gets used for the occasional school lunch or visits from the tooth fairy, but not much else.

But not for everyone

However, assuming that this pattern holds for everyone would be a mistake. There are still big sectors of the economy and large groups of people that remain heavy users of cash and are heavily dependent on it, and as others move away from it, that’s increasingly going to cause them problems. Sadly, this likely applies most to some of the more vulnerable and marginalized parts of our society, who will be least in a position to make the changes necessary to keep up as the rest of society moves on.
Just a few examples of people or businesses still dependent on cash:
  • Homeless people and others who ask for money on the streets
  • Charity workers soliciting cash donations in public areas
  • Manual and casual laborers who get paid in cash, either for convenience or for tax reasons
  • Cab drivers
  • Those who don’t have bank accounts or credit cards, including many without regular incomes
  • The elderly
  • The very young, also unlikely to have bank accounts
  • Anybody who works based on tips, from waiters and waitresses to maids and barhops in hotels to valet parkers
  • Small local retailers and restaurants that can’t justify high credit card processing fees on mostly small purchases.
The list could go on much longer than that, but the point is that there are those who are in some cases heavily dependent on cash and are relatively powerless to make the changes necessary to keep up. These are often among the poorer and least educated people in our society, and therefore those with least access to technology, the traditional banking infrastructure or information about how to adapt.

Tech has offered partial solutions

The tech industry has offered partial solutions, but mostly in self-serving ways. Payment processing company Square has transformed many a small retailer or producer from a cash-only business to one that can take credit cards and even Apple Pay, and has created ways for those without traditional cards to carry balances and make payments with their phones. Amazon has introduced methods for those who deal mostly in cash to obtain one-off or refillable cards to be used to pay for things on its site. Venmo has turned erstwhile cash transfers into electronic payments. But these solutions mostly tear down limits to the addressable markets for their own products without necessarily expanding economic opportunity or promoting inclusion, while also often being based on internet and mobile technology not available to all.

But needs to do more

What we need are solutions for the rest of society, and especially for those without access to the internet and phones to be able to receive non-cash payments. What about an app that allows patrons or would-be donors to set up a transaction in an app, and allows the recipient to walk into a bank or store to pick it up in cash with a privately shared code? Or an app that allows users of basic smartphones to receive payments and carry a balance without creating an ongoing relationship with the payer? What about a service that would provide meals, access to beds and other facilities, or other needed items to the homeless based on donations from smartphone users?




Technology has such an enormous potential to reduce friction and make payments simpler, but what we need are innovations that do the same on the receiving end, including in ways that don’t themselves require technological solutions.
Calling on the tech industry to step up to big societal problems has been something of a theme lately in my columns, but I can’t help but think that this is yet another area where those already most on the fringes of society will just be left further marginalized by technology rather than brought into the fold by it. It doesn’t need to be that way: The bright minds that have created so many technologies that help us deal with our “first-world problems” can surely find ways to help those with more biting and pressing challenges as our society continues to evolve.


Jan Dawson is founder and chief analyst at Jackdaw, a technology research and consulting firm focused on the confluence of consumer devices, software, services and connectivity. During his 13 years as a technology analyst, Dawson has covered everything from DSL to LTE, and from policy and regulation to smartphones and tablets. Prior to founding Jackdaw, Dawson worked at Ovum for a number of years, most recently as chief telecoms analyst, responsible for Ovum’s telecoms research agenda globally. Reach him @jandawson.
Website: https://www.recode.net/2017/7/24/16021630/cash-payments-cashless-mobile-inequity-square-apple-pay-venmo-amazon 

10/12/2018

WeChat Pay Has Launched In M'sia, Here's Everything We Know So Far

  • WeChat Pay is now available in Malaysia, and we are one of the first markets outside of China with the wallet localised to our currency. 
  • WeChat will be able to capitalise on the existing 20 million users in Malaysia.
  • They also have an existing partnership with Hong Leong Bank to enable WeChat Pay merchants. 
Rumour has it that WeChat Pay will be launching in Malaysia sometime in June, preferably before Raya Aidilfitri hits.
And the launch will be happening just in time too, as PM Mahathir has expressed interest in turning the country cashless.
While it’s seemingly just another e-wallet to join the multitudes of other e-wallets that have appeared in the Malaysian market recently, one key difference is the role WeChat played in changing the payment infrastructure of the whole of China.

Tencent’s secret was QR codes / Image Credit: Edward Lindeman on YouTube

Tencent’s brainchild was able to win the e-wallet battle in China, and the e-wallet movement in China is so thoroughly entrenched that you can feasibly live an entire month in China without ever touching cash—even when buying hawker foods or shopping in wet markets.
Could WeChat Pay be the final missing link that truly brings the e-wallet era to Malaysia?
Here are a few things to know about WeChat’s launch into Malaysia.

1. Malaysia will be the first country outside of China to receive WeChat Pay.

WeChat Pay is technically available for everyone across the globe, but Malaysia will be the first country to receive WeChat Pay in our local currency—the ringgit.
“Malaysia is actually quite large in the sense that we have 20 million WeChat users, huge potential, and the market is quite warm towards internet products from China,” said senior vice president SY Lau.
WeChat might have an advantage in the acquisition of users in Malaysia, but time will tell if this can translate to a lead in the region that sees AliPay operating for about 1 year now.
Payment methods that will become available in Malaysia include Quick Pay, where vendors can scan a QR code on a customer’s mobile phone once they’ve made a payment for a quick transaction. Or, users can scan a QR code set up by the vendors to see a product’s information or transaction guides.
WeChat also offers options for In-App Payment, where vendors can authorise WeChat to process payments when users make payments through other apps.

2. WeChat Pay Malaysia has been on beta for 2 years now.

Tencent Group has been beta testing an early run of the ringgit-enabled wallet for two years now, by selecting 10,000 Malaysian WeChat users.
Those selected get a dual version of the wallet—one for ringgit and one for RMB, though users at the time weren’t able to transfer currencies from one wallet to the other.
That being said, on the user’s side, WeChat Pay should be compatible with any credit or debit card, and WeChat has already enabled foreign credit cards to be tied to WeChat Pay accounts.

3. Local banks are already on WeChat Pay.

As early as November 2017, Hong Leong Bank has already enabled merchants to accept payments for WeChat Pay, in anticipation for the wallet’s launch in Malaysia.
When this collaboration was done, it was to ensure that Chinese tourists can continue using their WeChat accounts while visiting Malaysia, though once WeChat Pay launches for Malaysians, then there will already be a list of merchants that accept the e-wallet from day zero.
WeChat Pay’s wallet can be found in the “Me” tab of the normal WeChat app.
Topping up the balance is relatively simple.
1. Hit the “Balance” icon in the wallet.
2. Accept the “I understand” popup explaining that the maximum limit is RM4,999.
3. Set up your payment PIN for the e-wallet.
4. Enter your card payment details, and key in the amount.
5. Verify the top up through your bank’s security page.
6. You’ll be able to see your new balance after that’s done.
At the moment, it appears that you can only do mobile top-ups or buy bus tickets in the app itself. There will probably be more merchants coming on board in the near future.
  • For more on e-wallets, you can read up about the homegrown e-wallet, BigPay that will apparently “be worth more than AirAsia”.