By adaptive - November 23rd, 2015

Square goes public, iPad Pro has charging problems, and virtual reality is a legitimate consumer device. Andrew Tolve reports.

In this week’s Digest: Samsung, Best Buy, Amazon, Netflix, Google, Square, Uber, Airbnb, Sprint, Verizon, AT&T, Apple, Samsung, The Verge, Tech Times, Microsoft, Upthere, LG Pay, Shinhan Card Co., KB Kookmin Card Co. and Facebook.

In the news

Samsung Gear VR is live, and with it virtual reality has completed the long journey from harebrained idea to taped-together experiment to consumer-grade product. Samsung’s headset retails for $99, a low enough barrier to entry that the device has already sold out of big box retailers like Best Buy and online stores like The device pairs with a host of Samsung phones — Galaxy Note 5, S6 Edge+, S6, and S6 Edge — transforming their screens into virtual worlds with depth and movement that rival an IMAX theater. A host of gaming and media outlets are onboard with the product, including Netflix, which allows users to stream any Netflix content in virtual reality. Combined with Google’s recent release of Google Cardboard in conjunction with The New York Times, virtual reality is finally here and in a big way. Now, time to find out if consumers care about the damn thing.

In the money

Square, which helps businesses process mobile payments on their smartphones, went public at $9 a share. That’s $4 cheaper than the $13 that was projected — and the move seemed to pay immediate dividends, as share prices skyrocketed 64% and ended the day at $13.07 a share. Why do we care? Investor confidence in billion-dollar startups like Uber, Airbnb et al is beginning to flag, and many are looking at Square’s performance post IPO as a bellwether for how other so-called "unicorns" will perform if and when they go public.

Sprint heated up the wireless carrier wars in the U.S. with what it’s calling “the biggest wireless offer in the history of our industry.” Strip away the embroidery and here’s what you’re left with: Sprint is offering mobile plans at 50% the cost of competitors through the end of the year. 18 gigs is $100 per month on Verizon, $50 on Sprint. 5 gigs is $50 on AT&T, $25 on Sprint. You get the picture.

In other news

The iPad Pro has launched, and it’s off to a rocky start. The device, which Apple hopes will revive the struggling tablet market with an enterprise-first focus, stops working when it’s plugged into a charger. Yep. That’s bad. Apple has admitted as much. Other problems include apps that spontaneously stop working (like Spotify) and delayed shipping times for accessories, like a month plus for the stylus.

It’s not going much better for Samsung’s new supersized tablet, Galaxy View, which at 18 inches in diameter measures in at 50% larger than the iPad Pro. The device fashions itself as a three-for: part tablet, part laptop, part TV. Unfortunately, initial reviews have been almost unanimously negative. The Verge calls it “a flawed experiment.” Courtesy of Tech Times, “being a jack of all trades makes the View a master of none.”

The crown jewel of Microsoft’s smartphone line, the Lumia 950 and 950 X, is now available for purchase in the U.S. Price starts at $149 with contract from AT&T. The phone feels distinctly Microsoft — not just because it’s powered by the new Windows 10 but because it can be hooked up to a keyboard dock and be used as a screen for what essentially feels like a PC. Complete with Microsoft Office applications. Sorta weird. Sorta cool. We’ll see if people go for it. European rollout is scheduled for early December.

Holiday shopping — and shopping in general — has become a mobile-first activity, with more searches on smartphones than on desktops. That’s why Google says it overhauled the Google Shopping mobile interface. Plug in a generic toy type and the interface now delivers the most popular related categories to help narrow down a search. Tap on any specific item for images, reviews, and detailed info about which merchants carry the product and which stores have it in-stock.

Cloud storage startup Upthere launched its first apps, Upthere Home and Upthere Camera, in beta. The Home app allows you to drag and drop any folder or file from your desktop — from music mp3s to photos to work docs — into secure storage in the cloud. You can organize them, selectively share them in realtime via Loops with friends or family and access them on the go on any mobile device. Upthere Camera allows you to take pics from your mobile device directly into the cloud and share them with friends, again via Loops. Within the first 10 days of launch, the apps have 3.5 million uploads.

Oy vey, another one? Now LG says that it, too, will produce a mobile payment system to rival Apple Pay, Android Pay, Samsung Pay and all the other Pays out there, including the latest addition from JP Morgan Chase, Chase Pay. This is one too many pays to keep track of. LG Pay will work in concert with South Korea’s two major credit card providers, Shinhan Card Co. and KB Kookmin Card Co. No word yet on release date.

Nursing a heartache? Appalled at having to watch an ex lover cavort around with a paramour on your newsfeed? Worry not, Facebook has rolled out “Breakup Protection,” a new mobile feature that allows recently separated couples to block pictures and updates from each other without taking the more severe action of unfriending altogether. The company is trialling the feature in the U.S. before taking it worldwide. One question: Isn’t unfriending an ex on Facebook, along with a nasty, vengeful message, one of the great joys of breaking up in the first place?

The Mobile Digest is a biweekly lowdown on the world of mobile, combining Open Mobile Media analysis with information from industry press releases.

Andrew Tolve is a regular contributor to Open Mobile Media.

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