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Google has officially begun its quest to kill your physical wallet with the new Google Wallet mobile service. Google Wallet has been in field trials in a handful of cities, but has now gone national with the help of MasterCard PayPass. Currently, Google Wallet is only available on the NFC-toting Google Nexus S 4G from Sprint. As the service continues rolling out, are iOS users going to get a chance to ditch their wallets for good?
As it exists on Android, Google Wallet is totally dependent on near field communication (NFC). This is a short range wireless technology in the same class as RFID. Users just need to place the phone near the PayPass scanner and the saved credit card information is transmitted. Google, recognizing the potential security nightmare this could lead to, added a PIN code to the app.
An iOS user that fancies Google Wallet has bigger issues than just finding one of the readers. The current iteration of the iPhone lacks the NFC technology used by Google Wallet. The iPhone 5 has intermittently been rumored to both have, and not have an NFC module. Although, current rumors have the fifth iPhone coming with a multifunction Qualcomm chip with NFC support. At they end of the day, the hardware decisions made by Cupertino will affect the fate of Google Wallet on iOS.
If Apple does add NFC technology to the next iPhone, there is no guarantee they would want any part of Google Wallet. Back in May, Google said that Wallet would be an open standard that any mobile company could use; they just need to have NFC, and work with Google to implement the service. Apple has a habit of eschewing outside standards, instead choosing to develop their own.
Google’s push to get NFC into phones may be a slow burn, but partnering with the established PayPass system is a smart move. If Google tried to deploy its own branded readers, the uptake would undoubtedly be lower. While the network of PayPass readers is small in some areas, it’s giving Google a solid head start. If Apple or another manufacturer wanted to start a rival wireless payment service, they would be at an immediate disadvantage.
Google recognizes that most devices don’t have NFC, and that won’t change overnight. Back at that original announcement, the idea of NFC stickers paired with a Google Wallet account was floated. Those stickers have yet to materialize, but this might be a way out for iPhone users. Should the iPhone 5 lack NFC, or if Apple decides to pass on the service, a sticker bypasses all that in the lowest of low-tech ways.
The drawback, and likely the reason these stickers weren’t part of the announcement is the relative lack of security. The integrated app interfaces with the NFC chip to transmit a PIN code, and that might not be possible with external NFC stickers. It would essentially be like walking around with a credit card taped to the back of the phone.
Google’s purpose is obviously to get the Wallet service on as many devices as possible, but as is usually the case with iOS, the ball is in Apple’s court. The folks at 1 Infinite Loop don’t have to add NFC, and they don’t have to accept a Google Wallet app in the App Store. If the hardware support is there, iOS users might have a web app to look forward to, just like Google Voice for the longest time. All we can do right now is wait on the iPhone 5.