Support for tablet computers was first included in Windows XP in 2001 and yet until Apple launched the iPad in 2010 the market was focussed on commercial applications such as gas meter reading and street surveys for market research. Perhaps the same will be true of mobile contactless payments using Near Field Communications (NFC) and mobile wallets – in that the addition of Google‘s marketing behemoth and army of loyal fans may finally tip the balance on contactless payment and bring it to the mass market. Google has essentially added its own elements to a simple deployment of Prepaid card on mobile (done already in many countries) backed initially by MasterCard and Citibank. What this brings over other current deployments is the promise of a ‘neutral’ wallet that will support cards from multiple schemes and multiple banks – and of course will later run on any Android phone able to support NFC.
So what’s new in this package? The mobile wallet isn’t new – this was first touted back in 2000 when the first smartphones such as Ericsson’s R380 was used by MasterCard to demonstrate how SET could be deployed to create a mobile payments infrastructure. Sadly this was overly complicated to use and required expensive hardware – two factors that have killed many an innovation in payments. As mentioned earlier, prepaid on mobile with NFC isn’t new either – amongst others, Orange launched a full rollout of the technology with Barclaycard back in May this year. The truth is that despite all of this innovation, technology and promise, the touchpaper of demand for mobile NFC payments hasn’t yet been lit.
It seems that what is ‘new’ is the fact that a company considered by the public to be truly innovative has thrown its hat into the mobile payments ring – perhaps only Apple would have a greater guarantee of success. Regardless, before we get too excited and start dreaming of a life without cards, we should temper our thoughts that Google has first tackled the easier infrastructure of the US Magstripe (as did Square and others before them) where it is considerably technically simpler to accept transactions at POS – perhaps once they succeed in an EMV market such as Malaysia or France we might be seeing the shift that the industry has been waiting for. So still today only time will tell if this is finally the beginning of mass market payments with mobile – or whether NFC will remain the acronym of No Flippin Chance.