Although it’s yet to reach Irish shores, Monday marks a year in existence for the mobile payments system Google Wallet. As I reported last month here mobile payments promise to transform the retail world and the way we spend our money. So how has the new technology fared in its first year in the US?
At the launch event Google Wallet only worked on one device – the Sprint Nexus S 4G. This has improved slightly but the list of compatible phones is still quite limited. As well as the Nexus S you can now use the Sprint Galaxy Nexus, LG Viper and LG Optimus Elite and an unlocked Nexus on AT&T and T-Mobile. The common thread to all these phones is a built-in NFC (Near Field Communications) chip, which has become the de facto standard for mobile payments in recent years. Google promise 10 more compatible devices this year but they are locked in to the Sprint network.
Popular with retailers
Expansion among retail and banking partners has been more successful. Through MasterCard’s Paypass system Americans can use Google wallet at hundreds of thousands of terminals around the country. Big retailers such as Walgreens, Toys R Us, Macy’s, The Gap, RadioShack and Foot Locker among others have signed up to the system.
The catch with Paypass is that you need a Citibank MasterCard to allow Google Wallet to draw from your account. Other credit cards can be used to top up your Google Wallet balance but funds cannot be drawn directly from your account.
The list of retailers is impressive but as CNET’s Brian Bennett found in his report transactions don’t always run smoothly. The journalist set out around Manhattan to see what he could buy with his Google Wallet compatible phone. He had some success but nearly every transaction was slow and encountered some problems from having to restart the phone and Paypass system to register assistants having no idea how to process the payment.
Wallet’s main competitor is Isis, a joint venture between AT&T, T-Mobile and Verizon. It’s starting out slow, with trials in just two cities this summer (Salt Lake City and Austin), and has a growing, number of credit card partners (currently including Chase, Capital One and American Express), but it’s big advantage over Google is the promise of far more supported phones on all three big American networks.
However despite all the hype it’s clear from CNET’s experiment that this technology is still in its infancy and is not quite ready to replace the credit cards and cash in our real world wallets just yet. Google originally hoped to launch the system internationally in 2012 but there has been no specific announcement yet.