Android Seen Reaching for Its Wallet
Google reportedly plans to launch a service Thursday that will enable users of certain Android phones to pay for purchases at retail locations simply by waving their handsets in front of a sensor. NFC, or near-field communications, technology has been much talked about in the world of smartphones recently, yet its adoption in the U.S. remains relatively sparse.
Google will unveil a mobile payment service on Thursday in New York, according to a recent Bloomberg report.
This will be available on Android smartphones from Sprint Nextel.
The service will let Android smartphone owners with the NFC (near-field communications) feature enabled pay for goods and redeem coupons through their handsets.
Google will roll out the service in New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Chicago and Washington, D.C., according to the report.
"The NFC Forum is pleased that a number of NFC-enabled smartphones have been announced recently," forum director Debbie Arnold told TechNewsWorld.
Google did not respond to requests for comment by press time.
Sprint "does not comment on rumors and speculation," spokesperson Mark Elliott told TechNewsWorld.
NFC, or near-field communications, is a standards-based connectivity technology that enables touchless transactions in various areas, including payments, transport, loyalty programs and coupons, information collection and exchange, and healthcare.
NFC works with existing contactless card technologies and has built-in capabilities to support secure applications.
"It's not just about mobile payments," Michael Morgan, a senior analyst at ABI Research, told TechNewsWorld. "We call it 'card emulation capability.'"
Mobile payments is the feature of NFC that is attracting a lot of attention. The technology has a array of other capabilities. For example, it lets users pass information between mobile devices by touching them to one another, Morgan pointed out. Or, you can have smart posters that you touch your device to in order to get information.
"A lot of devices will be launched this year that will have other capabilities for NFC," Morgan said.
NFC and Smartphones
"Many of the major smartphone platform providers -- BlackBerry, Symbian, Android, Bada, WP7 and others -- are members of the NFC Forum," the Forum's Arnold pointed out. "We look forward to their contributions as we continue to develop specifications to move the technology forward and to ensure that NFC is globally interoperable."
Google in February introduced an update to Android 2.3, also known as "Gingerbread," that would give it NFC capabilities.
Apple, which was reportedly working on an NFC feature for its iOS mobile operating system, has apparently pulled back from plans to introduce that capability, at least for now.
RIM introduced two BlackBerries with NFC capabilities at BlackBerry World earlier this month -- the 9900 and the 9930.
Why the rush toward NFC? Probably because the mobile payments market looks attractive. An IHS iSuppli report states that the mobile payments market will begin picking up this year, and the number of users will increase from 116 million to over 375 million in 2015.
Google to Take Pole Position in the NFC Race?
If Google's Nexus S does indeed launch with NFC capabilities Thursday, the Internet search giant might pip archrival Apple to take the lead in this area.
"There are two factors involved with launching mobile payments through NFC," ABI's Morgan said. "You need the phones and you need the payment networks."
If the Nexus S is unveiled with NFC capabilities, "it will be big news," Morgan suggested. "You will have somebody saying 'Here's card emulation mode, here's a major operator, here's a payments system,'" he explained. "It will prod folks like ISIS to get up and running."
Billed as a mobile wallet, ISIS is a joint effort by AT&T Mobility, T-Mobile USA and Verizon Wireless to build a nationwide mobile commerce network using NFC technology. Work on the project has been stuttering, Morgan said.
NFC Vs. Square
Also making news recently is Square, a venture launched by Twitter cofounder Jack Dorsey that offers an app which lets users conduct commercial transactions over their smartphones. Could NFC have to (ahem) square off against Square?
Probably not, Nick Holland, a senior analyst at the Yankee Group, told TechNewsWorld.
Square "facilitates payments on mobile devices to get merchants to use them instead of POS terminals; it's just an extension of the physical to the mobile space," Holland explained.
As such, it's "the flip side of NFC, it's a card-accepting terminal, whereas NFC consists of your smartphone being used as a card replacement," Holland said. "NFC enables your smartphone to become your wallet."
Square has been negotiating with individual retail chains, but it might just lose out to NFC, which appears to have the numbers.
Both MasterCard and Visa are members of the NFC Forum's board of directors and are "actively involved" with the organization, the forum's Arnold stated.
Further, the National Retail Federation is a member of the NFC Forum, which is "working closely with them to reach out to retailers who are interested in NFC for mobile payments, as well as for other use cases such as loyalty and couponing," Arnold said.