Boxscore: Apple Will Dominate Payments, Says Everyone Except Apple

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698695902_c70bff5c9a_oA weekly recap of the week that was in local tech with a mix of news bits, analysis and hearsay.


First, what to watch for next week:
Apple’s big news event is on Tuesday, so prepare yourself for a week of total Apple-domination in the press. The company is set to release a number of new products including the next iteration of the iPhone and potentially, the long-awaited iWatch. But the big news to watch for is a new payments service from the iPhone maker, which is rumored to include partnerships with American Express, Visa, and even Nordstroms. (See more below)


Report: Apple might put the “i” in  “pay”
Rumors started to swirl late last week that Apple might finally add a payments product after Wired reported that the new iPhone may include near-field-communication, the on-again-mostly-off-again proximity messaging technology. A few days later, Recode’s Jason Del Rey broke news that the iPhone maker had already sealed a deal with American Express and was in talks with Visa, Mastercard, and oddly, Nordstroms. The merits of Apple’s competitive positioning in payments are well-documented: a huge existing install base with millions of credit cards already on file. And with HealthKit — and the healthcare data that comes with it — the company likely has already upped its data security (so long as someone doesn’t know your first cat’s name).

Court vindicates Yelp, says strong-arming small business owners is perfectly legal
“I’d hate to see those shiny five star reviews tragically disappear. Might be worth buying an ad or two just to make sure.”

That’s more or less the pitch that a number of business owners say Yelp sales people made to them after refusing to advertise on the site, according to an extortion lawsuit they filed in 2010. This week, an appeals court upheld a California Judge’s decision to dismiss the complaints — a result that Yelp immediately claimed as vindication that it doesn’t extort business owners. One small caveat: that’s not quite true. The decision released Tuesday ruled that the practice of manipulating the reviews that surface in order to pressure business to buy advertising  is not “independently wrongful,” and thus not distortion under the law. There’s no claim that it didn’t happen. As Bill Clinton said, it depends on what your definition of “is” is.

(Also, here’s the line from the decision that matters most:  “Unless a person has a pre-existing right to be free of the threatened economic harm, threatening economic harm to induce a person to pay for a legitimate service is not extortion.”)

More money flows into location ad tech, begging the question: is location more than a feature?
xAd, the location-centric mobile advertising firm, raised another $50 million Thursday. It’s interesting news for two reasons: first, the company appears to be doubling down on location as its addressable market, and not pivoting toward a wider “mobile” play. That’s good news for everyone. Second, the funding round, which according to a Venturewire report values the company at over $250 million, transforms xAd into a much pricier acquisition target. It’s not to say that selling is off the table — only that it seems more likely that the company may try to keep moving forward on its own.

But that’s not the end of the ad tech funding news: Placed, a startup that provides location analytics to companies such as xAd, announced another round of funding from IPG only months after bringing in $10m in a series A led by the wonk hedge fund Two Sigma Ventures.

Square plays squeeze the lemon, ends up being the lemon
Reports started to surface last weekend that Square is in the process of raising another $200 million to bolster its already-massive war chest. These follow reports that company’s payments-as-a-loss-leader strategy might be faltering, with its serious of back- and front-office software initiatives still in the works. In many ways, its decision time for Jack Dorsey: does the company become a payments firm, and try to drive volume — or does it use payments as a tool to enter an equally competitive point-of-sale software market. The money is starting to flow in, so it might be now or never.