Apple Pay ready for lift-off and Google 'trying to get it right'

Google is gunning for a seamless user experience for its payment system and is open to partnerships. Does the company have the focus or skill to tackle Apple Pay?
Written by Larry Dignan, Contributor

Apple Pay launches on Monday and CEO Tim Cook said that another 500 banks are supporting the payment platform and will come online over time. "We think it's going to be profound," gushed Cook.

Cook has a good reason to be optimistic. Apple Pay will ultimately be supported by 220,000 merchant locations as well as 83 percent of the credit card ecosystem. Simply put, Apple wasn't first to the payments game or NFC technology, but it has lined up enough partners to create a strong business that'll grow through 2015.

Previously: Apple Pay lands Monday, 500 new banks | Apple Pay's growth curve: The ramp will take time | Apple Pay: Really a PayPal killer? | EBay, PayPal to split into two separately traded companies | eBay, PayPal breakup an OpenStack private cloud split too

Where do these developments leave Google? After all, Google's Android supported NFC early and the company has a wallet effort underway.

Omid Kordestani, chief business officer, was asked on Google's third quarter earnings conference call about the master plan for payments. Kordestani's take was that Google needed more merchant and bank partners as well as NFC devices in the field. His answer also seemed to acknowledge that Google's payment approach needs to be more user friendly.

Here's what he said:

I think our goal here is really achieving mass merchant adoption and the availability of NFC devices. It's also making it easier for consumers to replace their wallets with their smartphones hopefully over time. Reducing friction in everyday shopping experiences is how we approach it and focusing on the user. We're developing a fully functional payment system. As you may know users can send money today to friends to Gmail using the wallet app where we have loyalty and gift cards that can be stored in the wallet app. Buy with Google button makes it possible to make purchases very quickly with two clicks. The focus is on merchant adoption and removing the friction for users.

Google has some time, but not much. First, Apple Pay won't have instant traction because retailers need to update systems. In addition, Google will find willing partners. Credit card giants such as MasterCard have already acknowledged that their payment partnerships will be cross platform.

The catch here is that Google doesn't have the luxury of time when it comes to lowering user payment friction because Apple jumped ahead in short order.

What's unclear is whether Google is moving quickly enough on the partnership front and has the focus to effectively compete. Google's earnings conference call made it clear that the search giant is playing on multiple fields---cloud, delivery, hardware, operating systems and that's not even counting wearables and robotic cars. When asked about whether Google would partner on payments or build its own system, Kordestani said:

I think we're going to continue to be open here. We are trying to get it right and innovating on multiple fronts. And partnering makes sense and we'll take a look at it as well. The goal is to provide this very seamless experience for the users and then get the merchant adoption. I think if we can all get the ecosystem right and there are multiple players in it we're definitely open to (partnerships).

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