Google wallet mobile payments: What it means for the channel

In late May, Google, MasterCard, Citi and a handful of U.S. retailers announced the upcoming “Google Wallet” mobile payments service, which will allow consumer to use select Near Field Communications (NFC) enabled, Android smartphones to pay for goods and services. And it looks like Google Wallet may officially launch today –though only one smartphone, the Google Nexus S, will reportedly support the service at first.

From a purported, leaked Google Wallet document, obtained by TechCrunch:

“Google Wallet is launching September 19, 2011. Google Wallet is a smartphone application (app) that allows owners of the Sprint Nexus S Android phone to use their smartphone as a wallet. This application or app will transform the way clients pay. Once Google Wallet is installed, the Spring Nexus S phone may be used as a contactless (Tap and Pay) device at all PayPass enabled merchant terminals.”

Google Wallet payment terminals have already been spotted at certain retailers, as well, including a Peet’s Coffee shop in San Francisco, which further suggests the service should launch in the very near future.

Google Wallet uses PayPass, a “contactless” payment service from MasterCard that lets its customers “tap” enabled credit cards, keyfobs and now, mobile phones, to compatible readers at payment terminals to pay for services. Google Wallet, which employs NFC and PayPass, will only work with PayPass-enabled Citi MasterCards and no other credit cards at launch, according to reports. And you’ll need a Google Nexus S smartphone running Android v2.3.4 (Gingerbread), to utilize Google Wallet.

The news is significant, because it represents one of the largest and most high-profile uses of NFC for mobile payments today. NFC is also expected to become widely used in the coming years, not just for payments, but also for secure building access, employee attendance and tracking and much more. In fact, BlackBerry-maker Research In Motion (RIM), recently announced that its latest BlackBerry smartphones with NFC will soon be able to be used as secure access cards.

Google Wallet and other similar mobile payment apps will surely shine a new light on mobile security in general, as well, since more and more users will be storing sensitive payment information on their devices, and thieves will have more incentive to hack or steal them.

But it may take a while for the average consumer to be able to use Google Wallet or other similar services, since NFC requires a specific hardware chip and most modern smartphones do not yet support the technology. Google Wallet is also expected to be available only to Android users, at first, so other smartphone owners may not get access to this specific mobile payment service.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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