Google (news, site) held a press conference in New York today to announce its fledgling Near-Field Communication (NFC) services, heralding a new age of customer loyalty, deals and shop snooping.
Pay on the Go
Google has just announced the start of NFC pay-with-your-mobile services in New York, working with the likes of MasterCard whose paypass system will power the service offering 300,000 merchant locations which are ready to start accepting Google Wallet.
Sprint, CitiBank and Vivotech are also partners for the field trials that are starting today, in New York and San Francisco, with a consumer launch expected in the summer when compatible devices and more infrastructure is available to match some carefully constructed consumer demand. The Google Wallet site has just gone live.
UPDATE - PayPal has launched a law suit against Google over the hiring of a PayPal executive, Osama Bedier, who is now Google's VP of payments. It claims that Bedier was being poached by Google while negotiating for PayPal to handle sales in Google's Android application market. Bedier is accused of having "misappropriated PayPal trade secrets by disclosing them within Google."
Another Google exec, Stephanie Tilenius is accused of recruiting Bedier, breaking a contractual agreement with eBay. This will get messy, but should not affect Google's service launch,
Out in the Field
The plan is that users will get discounts for regularly using the same merchants, with the convenience of not even having to get their wallet out to pay. Merchants can also use offers to tempt customers who haven't been back in a while to return. Here's what they have to say:
Google Offers will help the company attract users to its own discounts and loyalty service while the likes Groupon, local search and Google Places will all combine to offer a helpful shopping service. The service is "open" and the API will be made available so others can join in, but all the personal data will remain secure on the NFC chip.
A PIN number will protect your details, but once your phone has full NFC and a range of services built-in, protecting your mobile with your life may become an issue. If a thief does get your phone, they will need to get into the wallet app (protected by your PIN) to use any of the services, but it's still not something you'd want to lose.
Coming to a phone near you
Let the Scrum Commence
The mobile app looks just like a real credit card and can be funded by your bank account or a credit card, with only Citi cards working at the moment. Eventually you'll be able to buy anything online like concert tickets or travel passes and those will be stored digitally in the wallet, so all you ever need is to tap your phone to enter those events/systems.
With Apple and others expected to add NFC services soon, this area will become a minefield of competing services and the customer just has to hope there is a level playing field and compatibility between them.