Google Releases Mobile Wallet

by Matt Klassen on September 22, 2011

For years now Google has been the nexus of our digital existence thanks to its popular search engine technology, and more recently the company has sought to become the nexus of our mobile existence as well. Now with the release of its mobile payment platform it looks like Google is looking for a home at the centre of our economic existence as well.

This past Tuesday the company finally opened its long awaited Google Wallet, the first of what will likely be many offerings that allow people to use their handheld mobile devices as a quick-pay option at checkout counters across the nation. The Wallet service utilizes fledgling near-field communication (NFC) technology that allows the phone to send encrypted credit card information to the merchant’s scanner to complete a transaction.

Although Google’s Wallet service has a limited initial reach due to the fact that only a very select group of phones currently sport an imbedded NFC chip, there is certainly something to be said for the search engine giant being the first to the NFC party.

While NFC payment technology was first envisioned as a replacement for your credit and debit cards, the mobile payment revolution that I first predicted never really had a chance against the ironclad hold modern credit card companies have over our economic system.

That said, the revised NFC mobile payment system works much the same way as PayPal or other payment platforms, it allows you to store and access your credit card info without actually needing your credit card, and this time all from your mobile device.

Beyond that, however, the Google Wallet will allow users to store their coupons, gift cards, and discount cards as well, all usable with the simple swipe of a phone, making it an exceptionally useful tool to have while shopping.

But before you toss all your plastic in the garbage, just hold on one second. Although Google is the first to the NFC mobile payment dance, it’s really still looking for any serious dance partners. At the time of its release, Google Wallet supported exactly one credit card, the Citibank MasterCard, meaning that you need to have a Citibank account and that particular credit card to utilize the service.

The caveats don’t stop there though, as currently there is one phone that currently supports Google Wallet, Sprint’s Nexus S. To date, the Nexus S is the only phone on the market that features an imbedded NFC chip. While Google has gone on record saying that they are hoping to add more credit cards—with deals with Visa, Discovery, and American Express in the works—and that the next generation of phones will all likely come NFC enabled, there really is no time frame on when this will all come to pass.

While the premiere of this device is lacklustre at best, Google is nevertheless positioning itself as a strong contender as the default NFC option. Drawing on its marketing strategy behind Android, Google is offering its Wallet service for free, meaning it doesn’t take a cut from transactions made with Google Wallet. Instead, the company only makes money if merchants choose to advertise with the accompanying mobile ad service.

It is this move, again much like Android, that Google is hoping will propel its mobile wallet platform onto your phone, as it offers them one more opportunity to hit you with all that annoying Android advertising and one more opportunity to get to the nexus of your entire digital existence.

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