March this week improved on its “in like a lion” bonafides with a mid-month blizzard that socked most of the Northeast and gave us all our collective doubts that any lamb-like exits were in our national future. Innovation Project, incidentally, battled back against the blizzard and kept Cambridge warm despite the ice — which we’ll have coverage about all week.
Those parts of the nation that froze as the week started ended the week in the grips of insanity — literally, since the 2017 NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Tournament is underway, as is the attendant “March Madness.” We can’t tell you who to put in your bracket (our teams have mostly already been eliminated from the Sweet 16), but should payments and commerce ever get into bracket-based rankings, we could be terribly useful.
This week, for example, Amazon, Chase and Google all made big plays that at least indicated bracket-worthiness. How will this change the shape of the game?
Alexa’s Big App Integration
Americans without an Echo, Dot or one of a third-party device integrated with Alexa got some good news this week.
Soon they too will be able to talk to Alexa — so long as they have the Amazon iOS app on their phones — as Amazon announced last week that it will be embedding its virtual digital assistant into the app.
The iOS instantiation of Alexa will be able to shop, play music and perform a “host of other useful tasks” according to the company’s website.
Using Alexa via a phone is a similar experience to talking to the device-based edition. Users can ask Alexa to “search for paper towels,” “reorder batteries,” “track my last order” or “find bestselling camera,” which the device will then pull up. As for tasks, Alexa can respond to commands like “play some music,” “play the Beatles,” as well as answer basic questions on the weather, traffic or calendar (“When is Memorial Day?” is a suggested sample question).
The move follows a big uptick in Alexa’s skill count. As of last month, the AI voice-activated assistant hit the 10,000 skill milestone. Notably, though Alexa can do a lot, consumers have largely been drawn to a small segment of use cases: News, games and trivia, reference, lifestyle and weather skills comprise the majority share.
Will Alexa’s in-app integration make a difference?
If it is successful, that is almost certainly a yes for Amazon. Alexa is a learning AI, meaning the more users it has, the more it learns and the better it does. By opening up to the set of iOS users, Amazon potentially has access to a lot of data coming its way.
But that only happens if Alexa can successfully compete with Siri, the voice-activated AI that already lives on the iPhone and that users are more familiar with using. Siri also has the advantage of being integrated with the software and is more closely tied to Apple’s overall ecosystem.
But users do love Alexa — and if it is outstrips Siri for skills despite being less integrated, the fight for that smartphone real estate could start looking pretty fierce.
Chase Pay Grabs up MCX’s Payments Tech
In an effort to further expand Chase Pay, JPMorgan Chase has inked a deal to acquire MCX’s payments technology. The transaction is expected to close in the next few weeks.
MCX, according to a JPMC release, will give MCX merchants a more “seamless” connection to Chase Pay.
“When we think about FinTech, we go through a ‘build/buy/partner’ evaluation to decide how we can get to market most efficiently,” said Jennifer Roberts, head of Chase Pay.
“MCX has been an important partner, and their technology complements ours, so we’re thrilled to deepen our relationships with the merchant community through the purchase of this technology. This will help us get to market faster.”
Chase Pay launched in November 2016 with a few initial merchants. Since then, it has announced upcoming integrations with Walmart, Shell, Best Buy, Phillips 66 and Wakefern. In December, Chase also announced an investment in LevelUp to bring the ability to order and pay ahead to customers at thousands of quick-service restaurants. The firm also announced an integration with mobile-first movie ticketing platform Atom Tickets.
“Consistent with our mission to provide secure, consumer-friendly and cost-effective mobile payment solutions to the marketplace, MCX took advantage of this opportunity to have the solution expanded to the broader merchant community,” said Brian Mooney, CEO of MCX.
Payments Come to Gmail
In one of the quieter moves of the week, Google announced that the Gmail app on Android will now enable people to send and request money from anyone, even if they do not have a Gmail address.
“Whether you’re splitting a dinner bill or planning a group trip, you now have a fee-free way to work out the details and settle up without ever leaving the Gmail app on Android, just like you can already do on the web,” Sam Kansara, a product manager at Google, said in a blog post.
The new capability essentially allows a user to send money in the same way they would send an attachment in an email message.
Once funds have been received by the recipient, that person can claim the money and have it transferred directly to a selected bank account without having to add or install any additional apps.
“We believe that experiences like this should be contextual. Users shouldn’t have to switch apps to complete an interaction where they just need to send or receive money,” a Google spokesperson told PYMNTS. “This integration makes it easier for users to be able to do things in a medium where they’re already communicating with others, so it’s logical to move the payment interaction there too.”
Currently the feature is only available in the U.S. and on the web or Android and comes into a very crowded market — Venmo, Square Cash, Facebook Messenger and Zelle are the immediate shortlist that spring to mind. But Google feels that Gmail’s one billion active monthly users might prefer using Gmail better.
Feels like a slog.
So while we can’t tell you how to build a better bracket, we do have some good overall advice this week.
Don’t blink, you might miss something.