Google has launched its Wallet service for making one-tap payments with a mobile phone and announced plans to include Visa, American Express and Discover credit cards in addition to its current partner, MasterCard.
Using Nexus S 4G phones on Sprint’s network in the US, Google has moved ahead of a similar joint venture called Isis, set up by the AT&T, T-Mobile and Verizon mobile operators.
Isis is expected to start limited trials next summer, but Google Wallet went live on Monday with Nexus S owners receiving updates on their phones that enabled mobile payments.
The Wallet is an app that links to a near-field communication (NFC) chip inside the phone. The technology allows the handset to make a payment by simply tapping on a reader in a shop.
“This is just a beginning for us, it’s version 1.0, but we expect the product to move quickly and add new features over the coming months, as well as us increasing the number of banks and handset providers that we partner with,” Osama Bedier, Google vice-president of payments, told the Financial Times.
Mr Bedier said Google hoped to make the service available to European consumers in 2012.
Initial users will have to have a Citi MasterCard or a Google prepaid card to fund their payments through the Wallet. Their phones will work on MasterCard PayPass tap-to-pay terminals – of which there are more than 120,000 in the US and over 300,000 globally.
Visa said in a statement on Monday it had given Google a worldwide licence to use its Visa payWave technology, which is similar to PayPass and is accepted at hundreds of thousands of retail locations worldwide.
Google is also working with major retail partners including Bloomingdale’s, Macy’s and Subway to install next-generation tills that work with NFC chips.
For retailers, the attraction is not just to ease the payment process for customers, but also to increase engagement with them – tapping on the readers can also add loyalty points or allow digital coupons to be spent.
Google Offers is being launched in conjunction with Google Wallet to allow it to be loaded with coupons from retailers.
While only one phone model will now work with the service, Google estimates 50 per cent of US smartphones – about 150m devices – will contain NFC chips by 2014.
Google may be first in NFC mobile payments, but it is far from the only company that may offer payment services. Apart from the Isis joint venture, PayPal has its own mobile app and Apple is rumoured to be including an NFC chip in the iPhone 5 expected next month.