With smartphone usage growing exponentially, this afternoon, Google announced the release of their long-rumored and long-awaited Near Field Communications (NFC) payment system, Google Wallet. Google Wallet is a mobile application for mobile devices running its Android operating system. With partnership support from Citi, MasterCard, First Data and Sprint, Google hopes to jump-start the mobile payment era in the United States.
Google Wallet will allow users of Android phones that have NFC chips to simply tap their phones on specially enabled electronic payment pads to pay for their purchases. Payments are backed by your own credit card or forthcoming Google Prepaid Cards.
The system will be compatible with existing MasterCard PayPass vendors. This means right out of the gate, there will be over 124,000 merchants where you can use Google Wallet.
But Google's vision is for Wallet to be more than a simple payment system. In addition to your credit card information for your associated credit card, Wallet will also store shopper loyalty card numbers and their associated points, receipts, gift card information, boarding passes, and sporting event tickets.
As part of the press event, Google claims they are willing to partner with every company that produces devices with NFC chips, regardless of platform. That is, of course, if Apple, RIM and Microsoft have "the willingness to work with Google on this system," according to Stephanie Tilenius, Google's VP of Commerce. Google is so serious about growing a rapid user base that they're giving away $10 free to anyone who gets a Google Prepaid card.
For those concerned about security, the NFC antenna is only activated when your device's screen is powered on. The app then requires a PIN to allow transmission of payment credentials. This will help stop nearby hackers and skimmers from obtaining your information without your permission.
At least in the case of the Nexus S, the secure NFC chip is isolated from the phone's operating system and even from the rest of the phone's hardware. The chip is also secured against physical tapering. The app also allows you to "reset" Wallet to remove all payment credentials at any time.
Google Wallet will be available only for the Nexus S 4G, but not until mid-to-late-summer. However field tests have begun in New York and San Francisco where PayPass devices are prevalent in vending machines and Taxi services.
Will you be one of the early adopters? Let us know in the comments below.