Google announced its new Wallet payment program for mobile devices on Thursday. Despite a lengthy introduction, plenty of questions remain unanswered.
At first glance, I'm actually quite intrigued by the NFC-enabled app. I already enjoy being able to pay for Starbucks using the iPhone app. The gift card attached to the account is set up to auto-load funds directly from my credit card when low, much like the Google pre-paid credit card would for those who don't already have MasterCard accounts.
Being someone who travels between San Francisco and New York City often and shops and many of the locations Google has already signed on to the project (i.e. Walgreens, Bloomingdales, Jamba Juice, etc.), it would be a lot of fun to try out first. (The flip side to that is users in those metropolitan areas testing Google Wallet will also run into more problems and bugs with the app that Google hadn't foreseen.)
Nevertheless, that doesn't mean I'm ready to say goodbye to my plastic cards. (Or even cash. Where would i put it? Does anyone carry cash anymore?) The old-school, analog version of the wallet is here to stay for a long time.
- What if the smartphone's battery dies? In all likelihood, future NFC phones are going to be 4G/LTE-enabled. The way things are going now, like say with the HTC ThunderBolt, 4G drains a smartphone's battery at a rapid pace. Add that to making purchases throughout the day (morning coffee, lunch, etc.) a smartphone isn't going to make it through the day on a single charge. And if you're traveling or forget to charge the battery, what then? Plastic is still the safest bet.
- What about ATM cash advances? Until Google figures out away to install scanners of some kind on ATMs throughout the country, plastic again remains the default credit option.
- What if I lose my phone? This is probably going to be the biggest question on everyone's minds. Security is the biggest concern when it comes to mobile devices and identity theft, especially given how easily it can be to lose a cell phone. (How many Facebook invites have you received that read like "I lost my phone! Send me your numbers!"?) Google went over the security precautions in some detail, including talk about pin numbers and the NFC chip technology, but a better and clearer explanation is now available in Google Wallet's FAQ section.
- Who knows (and owns) my personal information? This was one of the more fuzzy topics during the media event. It wasn't discussed in the general portion of the introduction but rather brought up to Google & friends reps during the Q&A session. MasterCard execs tried to explain that really the owner of the phone is the owner of his or her data, and while it sounds like they won't sell information to third-parties, Google might want to take initiative with answering this to customers before having to do any damage control like it did with "Locationgate" recently.
- Does this open the door for spamming on smartphones? Google Offers is also launching alongside Wallet as a daily deals and rewards tracking app. Google has many reputable businesses signed up for offering discounts and other promos, but again, if the information is sold off or just ends up in the wrong hands, who knows what could happen?
- Will this technology replace cash registers and/or jobs? Unlikely. Just like with Square's new Card Case, the service is still rather limited. Technology is never foolproof. Some kind of error is always going to pop up and you'll need a real person on hand to solve it. Additionally, it's surprising that Google and other mobile payment proponents haven't discussed the possibility of easier thefts here. Sure, a customer can just hold up a phone, but what if its a screenshot or there are too many people in the store at one time?
- What about international travel? Google reps did say that they eventually plan to expand Wallet services worldwide, starting with Europe and then likely Asia. However, Visa remains the most used and accepted credit card worldwide, and it's likely that Google Wallet won't be accepted anywhere outside major cities for a long time. That leads into the next question...
- What about retailers that don't accept MasterCard? This might not even be a concern for the time being as MasterCard is one of Google's partners on the project (along with Sprint and First Data), so its unlikely that the team has recruited any retailers that don't take MasterCard. It might not be as common as Visa, but I have more problems with using an American Express card. Nevertheless, if Google is planning to expand this program so large that it becomes the norm and if retailers end up with some generic mobile payments system (which could happen in the next few years), this question might pop up again.
- What about iPhone and other smartphone users? Like I said before, Google Wallet really does pique my interest in streamlining purchases as well as an easy way to keep track of receipts without stuffing my wallet and/or purse with tiny strips of wasted paper. But I can't sign up for the program because of one glaring problem: I'm an iPhone owner. So far, it seems that Google Wallet will only be applicable for Android smartphones - not iOS or Windows Phone 7. Of course, the iPhone doesn't even have NFC capabilities yet, but the next generation model is expected to have the chip to enable mobile payments. It's likely that Apple would launch a similar service of its own given the media attention Google has received for this new venture, but the Cupertino, Calif.-based giant is fairly stubborn with only allowing payments made via iTunes. Nevertheless, rumors swirl that a deal with Visa is on the horizon...
- What's the deal with PayPal? Later on Thursday, PayPal slapped Google with a lawsuit saying that execs stole trade secrets from the eBay-owned company. Could this end up delaying or even blocking the launch of Google Wallet altogether? Whether or not the concept of digital wallets works out remains to be seen, but we can sure that a war is brewing here. It's not just between Google and PayPal, but expect every tech giant and credit card/online payment company to get into the mobile payment scene this year.
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