Well, maybe not just around the corner, but by acquiring Zetawire, a Canadian company that handles credit card payments via near field communications, Google took one more step towards being the leader in phone-based, swipeless transactions. And given that Google actually purchased the company in August, it's had some time to start exploring the technology (integrated into the Nexus S).
Retrofitting terminals in retail locations still has a long ways to go to bring the technology into the mainstream (and efforts by major banks are still years off, despite early efforts by the ISIS consortium of AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile, and Discover). However, the idea of having a virtual wallet in the one device to which most of us are tethered day in and day out is quite attractive. As one analyst described,
Zetawire's "patent provides for mobile banking, advertising, identity management, credit card and mobile coupon transaction processing." It's technology that would take away the need for a credit card and allow a consumer to buy items using his or her smartphone.
Zetawire is one of 36 companies that Google has purchased this year. As Android faces drastically increased competition from Apple when the iPhone comes to Verizon early in 2011, it will need to introduce a variety of value adds like credit card payments via NFC or their Google Maps turn-by-turn navigation that are exclusive to the platform. Acquisitions like Zetawire will prepare the company well for a changing competitive landscape. Whether it will be enough to hold off a Verizon iPhone, however, remains to be seen.