Yesterday Google was feeling good about things with the rollout of Google Wallet. Wallet is Google's service that lets certain Android phone owners play George Jetson and pay for goods by waving an NFC-enabled Android phone in front of a sensor in a checkout terminal.
This initial rollout is limited to the Nexus S 4G on Sprint since it already has the NFC hardware inside, and a partnership with Sprint; all other Android phones are out of luck right now. Actually, I haven't found anyone with this phone that has actually received the OTA update from Sprint yet to enable Google Wallet. It's basically a very soft, soft launch.
As a Sprint Nexus S 4G owner, I happen to be in the very small group that can test Google Wallet once I get the Sprint/Google update. While waiting for the NFC hardware in my phone to get enabled by the OTA update, I wanted to get a feel for what using Wallet will do for me, as to tell the truth I am not sure that NFC technology will be able to help phone owners much for a good while.
I figured the best thing to do was go online and see how many businesses in my immediate area will work with Google Wallet out of the box. Since PayPass by Mastercard is the service Google uses, I went to their web site and did a search for all businesses in a five-mile radius from my home that are PayPass ready.
I was surprised to see 75 merchants on the list, which at first sounded pretty darn good. Then I sorted through the list and determined that initially Google Wallet is for the most part going to be able to satisfy my cravings for fast food.
Out of the list of Google Wallet ready merchants near me the top five (number of listings per merchant) listed were:
McDonald's - 15
CVS - 10
Kroger - 10
Jack in the Box - 8
Taco Cabana - 3
Further scrutiny of the list showed that it was full of multiple entries at the same address, perhaps to represent multiple PayPass terminals. That was true with most merchants on the list of 75, so that total number is misleading.
It turns out not many merchants near me are ready for Google Wallet, and that is not surprising since it is brand new. How well Wallet does in the future is closely tied to how many merchants install PayPass terminals. I'm not going to benefit from Google Wallet if only a handful of merchants in my world will accept it for payment.
I remember the early days of the debit card, and trying to remember which merchants accepted them and which ones did not. This will be the same way, for a pretty long time I suspect. But this time around we are already trained to pull out the debit card, which is easy to do, so Wallet may try many folks' patience.
I love the idea of paying for goods and services without pulling out the wallet, but I don't want to keep track of which merchants have terminals that work with my Android phone. At least after I get the software update to enable the technology.