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BMW M550i: Driven

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One of those M cars that BMW denies us. We’re not too sad

You already know there are different types of M car. At the lowest rung is the BMW 318d wearing a wonky looking “M” badge purchased on eBay. Above these there are BMW’s own M-Sport versions, which is just a trim level. Next come the products of the official M-Performance sub-brand (or maybe that should be sub-sub-brand), cars like the M240i and M760i. Then, and only then, at the top of the tree are the fully fledged M-cars that get to indicate their specialness with a single integer: M2, M3, M4 and M5. Confusingly the X5M and X6M also nominally sit at this top table.

But there is also a simpler way to distinguish between them, and one that takes far less account of such a rigid dynamic hierarchy, between those which are good, and those which are not.

Nicht fur dich
It’s not long since everything M Division touched turned to dynamic gold, but in recent years things have got very hit and miss, with success and failure at all levels of the ladder. So while some are still sell-your-kidneys hits – the M135/ M140i and M2 stand out as recent highlights – there have been some really damp squibs, too. Speaking personally, I don’t like the overly aggressive M3 and M4 as much as any of the obvious alternatives, the last M5 didn’t even set my trousers smouldering, and I’d question the very right of the X5M and X6M to even exist.

Enter the BMW M550i, to see if it can pull the sword from the stone of M’s core values. As its name suggests it is one of the M-Performance models, sitting below the new M5 in the 5-Series range. But BMW GB has already confirmed that it won’t be coming to Blighty, reckoning that the marketing gap between the 540i that tops the regular range and the M5 itself it too small to squeeze it into. For similar reasons, we won’t be getting the diesel-powered M550d either.

The M550i’s little brother status is similar to that of the M240i to the M2, with less firepower and fewer trick parts. Both M-badged 5-Series have similar engines, 4.4-litre twin-turbo V8s. The M550i boasts a peak 456hp, still a respectable tally but a way off the 600hp of the M5. The xDrive all-wheel drive system is described as being rear-biased, but it lacks the ability to go rear-only that the M5’s big skid mode has. It’s certainly not slow, though – on BMW’s numbers it dispatches the 0-62mph dash in just 4.0-seconds, making it quicker than the last F10 M5 despite a 100hp power deficit. That’s the advantage of all-wheel drive for you.

Eight is great
Let’s start with what’s good, with the engine at the top of the list. The big V8 is brawny and characterful, deep lunged and supplying peak torque from a diesel-rivalling 1,800rpm, but still happy to explore the upper reaches of its rev range. Under gentle use there’s little noise beyond a muscular hum, but with whip applied the M550i moves with a serious purpose, pulling hard to the 7,000rpm redline and making some pleasantly angry noises in the top quarter of its rev range. It feels properly quick, not just tick-the-benchmark fast, with even a gently flexed toe creating a pleasingly forceful forward surge thanks to a pleasantly keen throttle response. Compared to the Mercedes E43, which packs a 400hp turbo V6, the BMW feels like it’s brought a gun to a knife fight.

It also delivers all the other virtues of the current 5-Series. The cabin is well designed and well finished and packed with kit, including the semi-autonomous CoPilot active steering system on the car I drove. Materials are well chosen, the gentle LED lighting in the door trims is just so and the fonts and animations on the various display screens are crisply rendered. Cruising refinement is almost freakishly good, and the M550i is quieter over rough freeway surfaces than almost anything else. Even economy is respectable, with the trip computer’s claimed 23mpg in U.S. gallons, on a run including both hard use and cruising, translating to 27.6mpg.

There’s a but
Have you spotted what’s missing yet? Any hint that the M550i is anything more than a very fast, very refined 5-Series. There’s a good reason for that; with the possible exception of the typing accident that was the X6M 50d I can’t remember any car to wear an M badge while exhibiting fewer of the brand’s key attributes.

The steering sums it up. On the regular 5-Series the reduction in steering feel to little more than digitally synthesised weight isn’t really a huge problem, certainly not for the sort of typical duty cycle that a 520d driver is going to experience. While some genuine feedback would be nice, its absence is unlikely to be a deal breaker. But the M550i has what feels like exactly the same anaesthetised helm, finger-twirlingly light in Comfort mode and then with syrupy resistance added when switched to Sport. There’s no issue with the speed of responses, it scythes into corners and the helm is deadly accurate. But it’s completely lacking the chatter that used to make BMW steering feel so special, the lightening and tightening that indicated different surfaces and road textures. It’s the M550i’s considerable misfortune that the last M-badged car I drove before it was an E60 M5, a slower car that manages to feel about 600 percent more involving.

The rest of the M550i dynamics follow the same path of mild disinterest in anything other than covering ground quickly. The soft suspension struggles to maintain body control over rougher roads, even firmed up in Sport mode, and hard cornering reveals a surprising amount of body roll. It takes the combination of a slow turn and a big throttle opening to get the xDrive giving any hint of its rear bias, for the most part grip levels are high enough to make the 5-Series feel like a quattro-driven Audi. It’s a neat trick, but not what most people are likely to expect from an M-badged BMW. There’s absolutely no encouragement to go and play.

M-aybe not
The debate over whether cars should be getting faster and more powerful is an interesting one, and an increasing number of manufacturers are using downsizing as an excuse to launch what are being pitched as back-to-basics products like the F-Type 2.0-litre. The M550i could have been something like that, a car that celebrated the virtues that made the less powerful M-cars of old feel truly special and which played the role of understudy to what will doubtless be the huge talent of the M5.

But it’s not. It’s nothing close. Dynamically it feels like a 530i with a warp drive attached rather than a true M Car, a very fast 5-Series for people who want to cruise in comfort and accelerate hard in straight lines. It’s painful to admit, but we should be grateful that it’s not coming here.

BMW M550i
Engine: 4395cc V8, twin-turbocharged
Power (hp): [email protected],000rpm
Torque (lb ft): [email protected],800rpm
0-60mph: 4.0-sec
Top speed: 155mph (limited)
Weight: 1810kg
MPG: 31.7mpg
CO2: 204g/km
Price: €82,700 (Germany)

source: https://www.pistonheads.com/news/bmw/bmw-m550i-driven/36829

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Paypal to allow users to buy, hold and sell four cryptocurrencies

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Bitcoin is up $400 to $12,296 today. Part of the reason is that Paypal hass received a conditional bitlicence from the New York State Department of Financial Services and will launch a service for users to be able to buy, hold and sell cryptocurrency.
In the release the company said it “signaled its plans to significantly increase cryptocurrency’s utility by making it available as a funding source for purchases at its 26 million merchants worldwide.”
The company is introducing the ability to buy, hold and sell select cryptocurrencies, initially featuring Bitcoin, Ethereum, Bitcoin Cash and Litecoin, directly within the PayPal digital wallet. The service will be available to PayPal account holders in the U.S. in the coming weeks.
“The shift to digital forms of currencies is inevitable, bringing with it clear advantages in terms of financial inclusion and access; efficiency, speed and resilience of the payments system; and the ability for governments to disburse funds to citizens quickly,” said Dan Schulman, president and CEO, PayPal.
“Our global reach, digital payments expertise, two-sided network, and rigorous security and compliance controls provide us with the opportunity, and the responsibility, to help facilitate the understanding, redemption and interoperability of these new instruments of exchange. We are eager to work with central banks and regulators around the world to offer our support, and to meaningfully contribute to shaping the role that digital currencies will play in the future of global finance and commerce.”

This is great news for crypto but I’m told it shouldn’t have been entirely unexpected In June, there was a report that Paypal was working on direct crypto sales.

Source: https://www.forexlive.com/Cryptocurrency/!/paypal-to-enable-users-to-buy-hold-and-sell-cryptocurrencies-20201021

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Nokia awarded contract to build 4G network on the moon

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Nokia has been awarded a contract to establish a 4G network on the moon. The contract is one of several that NASA is awarding to companies as it plans a return to the moon.

The $14.1 million contract was given to Nokia’s US subsidiary and is a small part of the $370 million total awarded to companies such as SpaceX. The cellular service will allow astronauts, rovers, lunar landers, and habitats to communicate with one another according to Jim Reuter, the Associate Administrator for NASA’s Space.

Nokia Logo

The 4G network that Nokia will build will be miles superior to the form of communication that was used during the early missions to the moon.

This is not Nokia’s first attempt to launch an LTE network on the moon. It planned to do so in 2018 in collaboration with PTScientists, a German space firm, and Vodafone UK to launch an LTE network at the site of the Apollo 17 landing but the plan never came to fruition.

Source: https://www.gizmochina.com/2020/10/18/nokia-awarded-contract-to-build-4g-network-on-the-moon/

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Stripe acquires Nigeria’s Paystack for $200M+ to expand into the African continent

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When Stripe  announced earlier this year that it had picked up another $600 million in funding, it said one big reason for the funding was to expand its API-based payments services into more geographies. Today the company is coming good on that plan in the form of some M&A.

Stripe is acquiring Paystack, a startup out of Lagos, Nigeria that, like Stripe, provides a quick way to integrate payments services into an online or offline transaction by way of an API. (We and others have referred to it in the past as “the Stripe of Africa.”)

Paystack  currently has around 60,000 customers, including small businesses, larger corporates, fintechs, educational institutions and online betting companies, and the plan will be for it to continue operating independently, the companies said.

Terms of the deal are not being disclosed, but sources close to it confirm that it’s over $200 million. That makes this the biggest startup acquisition to date to come out of Nigeria, as well as Stripe’s biggest acquisition to date anywhere. (Sendwave, acquired by WorldRemit in a $500 million deal in August, is based out of Kenya.)

It’s also a notable shift in Stripe’s strategy as it continues to mature: Typically, it has only acquired smaller companies to expand its technology stack, rather than its global footprint.

The deal underscores two interesting points about Stripe, now valued at $36 billion and regularly tipped as an IPO candidate. (Note: It has never commented on those plans up to now.) First is how it is doubling down on geographic expansion: Even before this news, it had added 17 countries to its platform in the last 18 months, along with progressive feature expansion. And second is how Stripe is putting a bet on the emerging markets of Africa specifically in the future of its own growth.

“There is enormous opportunity,” said Patrick Collison, Stripe’s co-founder and CEO, in an interview with TechCrunch. “In absolute numbers, Africa may be smaller right now than other regions, but online commerce will grow about 30% every year. And even with wider global declines, online shoppers are growing twice as fast. Stripe thinks on a longer time horizon than others because we are an infrastructure company. We are thinking of what the world will look like in 2040-2050.”

For Paystack, the deal will give the company a lot more fuel (that is, investment) to build out further in Nigeria and expand to other markets, CEO Shola Akinlade said in an interview.

“Paystack was not for sale when Stripe approached us,” said Akinlade, who co-founded the company with Ezra Olubi (who is the CTO). “For us, it’s about the mission. I’m driven by the mission to accelerate payments on the continent, and I am convinced that Stripe will help us get there faster. It is a very natural move.”

Paystack had been on Stripe’s radar for some time prior to acquiring it. Like its U.S. counterpart, the Nigerian startup went through Y Combinator — that was in 2016, and it was actually the first-ever startup out of Nigeria to get into the world-famous incubator. Then, in 2018, Stripe led an $8 million funding round for Paystack, with others participating, including Visa and Tencent. (And for the record, Akinlade said that Visa and Tencent had not approached it for acquisition. Both have been regular investors in startups on the continent.)

In the last several years, Stripe has made a number of investments into startups building technology or businesses in areas where Stripe has yet to move. This year, those investments have included backing an investment in universal checkout service Fast, and backing the Philippines-based payment platform PayMongo.

Collison said that while acquiring Paystack after investing in it was a big move for the company, people also shouldn’t read too much into it in terms of Stripe’s bigger acquisition policy.

“When we invest in startups we’re not trying to tie them up with complicated strategic investments,” Collison said. “We try to understand the broader ecosystem, and keep our eyes pointed outwards and see where we can help.”

That is to say, there are no plans to acquire other regional companies or other operations simply to expand Stripe’s footprint, with the interest in Paystack being about how well they’d built the company, not just where they are located.

“A lot of companies have been, let’s say, heavily influenced by Stripe,” Collison said, raising his eyebrows a little. “But with Paystack, clearly they’ve put a lot of original thinking into how to do things better. There are some details of Stripe that we consider mistakes, but we can see that Paystack ‘gets it,’ it’s clear from the site and from the product sensibilities, and that has nothing to do with them being in Africa or African.”

Stripe, with its business firmly in the world of digital transactions, already has a strong line in the detection and prevention of fraud and other financial crimes. It has developed an extensive platform of fraud protection tools, but even with that, incidents can slip through the cracks. Just last month, Stripe was ordered to pay $120,000 in a case in Massachusetts after failing to protect users in a $15 million cryptocurrency scam.

Now, bringing on a business from Nigeria could give the company a different kind of risk exposure. Nigeria is the biggest economy in Africa, but it is also one of the more corrupt on the continent, according to research from Transparency International.

And related to that, it also has a very contentious approach to law and order. Nigeria has been embroiled in protests in the last week with demonstrators calling for the disbanding of the country’s Special Anti-Robbery Squad, after multiple accusations of brutality, including extrajudicial killings, extortion and torture. In fact, Stripe and Paystack postponed the original announcement in part because of the current situation in the country.

But while those troubles continue to be worked through (and hopefully eventually resolved, by way of government reform in response to demonstrators’ demands), Paystack’s acquisition is a notable foil to those themes. It points to how talented people in the region are identifying problems in the market and building technology to help fix them, as a way of improving how people can transact, and in turn, economic outcomes more generally.

The company got its start back when Akinlade, for fun (!) built a quick way of integrating a card transaction into a web page, and it was the simplicity of how it worked that spurred him and his co-founder to think of how to develop that into something others could use. That became the germination of the idea that eventually landed them at YC and in the scope of Stripe.

“We’re still very early in the Paystack payments ecosystem, which is super broken,” said Akinlade. The company today provides a payments API, and it makes revenue every time a transaction is made using it. He wouldn’t talk about what else is on Paystack’s radar, but when you consider Stripe’s own product trajectory as a template, there is a wide range of accounting, fraud, card, cash advance and other services to meet business needs that could be built around that to expand the business. “Most of what we will be building in Africa has not been built yet.”

Last month, at Disrupt, we interviewed another successful entrepreneur in the country, Tunde Kehinde, who wisely noted that more exits of promising startups — either by going public or getting acquired — will help lift up the whole ecosystem. In that regard, Stripe’s move is a vote of confidence not just for the potential of the region, but for those putting in the efforts to build tech and continue improving outcomes for everyone.

Source: https://techcrunch.com/2020/10/15/stripe-acquires-nigerias-paystack-for-200m-to-expand-into-the-african-continent/?tpcc=ECTW2020

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