After a few months of testing, Google’s plans for using Android to power purchases are finally coming to fruition. Google Wallet is now available to Samsung Nexus S owners on Sprint, enabling tap-and-go payments through PayPass sensors at Radio Shack, Foot Locker, Peet’s Coffee & Tea, Sunoco, CVS/pharamacy, and a bunch of other retail locations. American Eagle Outfitters, Jamba Juice, OfficeMax, and Toys R Us will also let you keep track of loyalty cards and point accumulations through Google Wallet. Citi and MasterCard helped testing during the pre-launch period, and now that the app is live, Visa, Discover, and American Express are also supported.
Google Wallet relies on a piece of hardware called a near-field communications chip. It’s a short-range radio that initiates data transfer when it gets close to another sensor. Though that might sound sketchy from a security perspective, PIN numbers are added to Google Wallet to ensure all transactions are legit. Contactless payment is the main use case for NFC, but access control is a close second. RIM’s starting to push NFC hard with the Bold 9900 and Curve 9360 both sporting the feature, and recently gaining accreditation with a big player in the digital key space. In fact, RIM had their own Wallet app for awhile – it’s just too bad that they never got close to realizing the vision nearly as well as Google will. Ticketing is a related niche that could be impacted by NFC. We’ve seen plenty of airlines adopt QR codes, and with that back-end infrastructure in place, it’s only a matter of adding (or swapping out) the point-of-entry sensors to move to NFC. On that note, NFC could very well succeed where a decade of QR codes has failed to gain mainstream traction.
Currently, Google Wallet is being pushed out through a software update to Sprint Samsung Nexus S owners. Here’s hoping it’ll be available elsewhere in the U.S. and worldwide soon, and even then, adoption will rely on Android manufacturers taking the leap and including NFC on their smartphones.