On a normal business day I probably have a meeting or call with at least half a dozen companies, and the first thing they think of when I mention NFC is mobile payments. More specifically, they always correlate Google Wallet with NFC. Recently, I was in a meeting and an executive interrupted me midsentence and said, "NFC is Google Wallet and the Google Wallet is useless. Name me three things about the Google Wallet that are innovative or useful."
Even though I think mobile payments is less than 1 percent of what NFC can do, Google did something right with the recent update of the Google Wallet: it opened up a lot of usability and capability improvements. That meant I was able to name 23 things for that executive – and I don’t even work for Google!
Considering I have lived and breathed mobile payments and NFC for over a decade, and create this type of stuff for companies, it wasn’t that hard for me to come up with them either. I’m wired to see challenges as opportunities for new solutions, and that executive challenged me. So here are just 10 of the concepts and capabilities I came up with. First, I'll start with things that Google may not even realize its Google Wallet can do today.
(In case you're wondering, I actually built rough prototypes of each of these examples. They're more than concepts; they're real. And the prototypes only took about three hours to build.)
Google Wallet can buy you tickets from a movie poster, and Fandango doesn’t even realize they can do it, today. Since the beginning of NFC, the scenario of buying a ticket to a movie by tapping a movie poster has been used as a prime example of the technology's potential. As yet I haven’t seen any huge commercial deployments, but the funny thing is Fandango can do it tomorrow. I went to Fandango’s mobile website and selected the option to buy a ticket for a specific movie and time. Fandango, of course, accepts Google Wallet. So I took the URL for the movie and time and wrote it onto an NFC tag using Samsung TecTiles. It was that easy.
Surprisingly, I bet Fandango, Regal Cinema and Google have yet to implement what took about 30 seconds. With very little time (and a tiny budget) there could be an NFC-enabled Fandango mobile app.
Google Wallet can work in most Square retailers, using an iPad, today. This one was a bit fun, since it uses an iPad from Google's good friends at Apple, and makes them get along – well, kind of. Using Google Wallet's in-app payment functionality, I made the app recognize what’s called "intent." That just means that if the phone reads a specific NFC app, it will launch it. I put that tag on a Square card reader. Acting as a "merchant," I was able to access a sample Google Merchant Account via a browser on an iPad. With a little creative web service to make everything play nice, I was all set.
At that point I was able to create a charge for a hypothetical customer, who then then could tap an NFC-enabled phone running Google Wallet to the NFC tag right on the Square card reader. The phone then showed up a payment request, and it used Google Wallet to pay. The merchant account showed via the web that the transaction was completed.
Congrats to Apple and Google for finally getting along.
Google Wallet can let you shop in the aisles of Walmart or Target, and have it shipped instantly to your home, today. Another use case I’ve heard for years is taking an NFC phone to a store, tapping a tag on a product or shelf, and buying the product either to take out of the store or ship to an address. This isn’t a new thing. At a conference in Germany nearly a decade ago I spoke about this use case. It's called VISO, or virtual in-store ordering.
I tried this out in both Target and Walmart and it wasn’t hard to do. Google Wallet isn’t available at either store, but Paypal is available in their online store. It wouldn’t be hard for Google Wallet to be added in that mix. To do it, I simply found the product I wanted, got to the checkout screen, took that URL and wrote it to an NFC tag using NXP’s TagWriter. I was then able to tap my Samsung Galaxy SIII to the tag, and since the site had my info and address, I was able to order the item and pay for it with a tap and two clicks. They have everything to do it today in both Walmart and Target and the tags with appropriate URLs could be deployed immediately.
Google Wallet can let you pay someone, from your phone to their phone with a tap, today. Person-to-person payments have been talked about for a long time. I’ve even seen offerings from Paypal and Intuit. Recently, Robin Dua from Google Wallet had mentioned this was one aspect that was coming to Google Wallet. The thing is, if you want to do it today it’s already there. Using Google Beam, all I had to do was have two phones with NFC share a URL. I had one phone open a Google Wallet payment link then tap the other phone; the link was shared. The second phone then used Google Wallet to pay. It wasn’t too complicated and used functions that are all available today.
Google Wallet can let you pay at the table in a Restaurant, today. One of my favorite examples of NFC that people always talk about is paying at the table via NFC. For this concept I also used Google Wallet's in-app billing and an Apple laptop. (I figured I should throw Apple into this scenario just in case we find out later this week that it's the only company on the planet not doing NFC.)
With the basic app and some functionality from my own company Narian (nothing complicated) I put an NFC tag on a check presenter, the leather portfolio you get at restaurants with your bill. On the Mac I had a simple site using Google Wallet and a dash of web service "magic." (Again, nothing complicated.) On the phone I used the app to define which table and selected Google Wallet to process the payment. I put in an amount to bill on the site, linked it to the hypothetical table in my hypothetical restaurant, and with a tap of the phone on the NFC-tagged check presenter I paid for my hypothetical meal.
It would take about two to four weeks to create a fully commercial-ready version to use in a real restaurant.
Android phones can work via NFC with Starbuck’s current mobile payments, if they wanted to, today. This use case isn’t specific to Google Wallet, but I thought it was interesting to try it out. Starbucks has had mobile payments for nearly two years. Its app uses 2D barcode readers from Honeywell, and a very nice mobile payments app created by my friends at mFoundry.
So how did I NFC-enable the Starbucks mobile payment app? It turns out that this particular barcode reader has a great many ways to connect to a point-of-sale, including things like USB, keyboard wedge, etc. I took a comparable barcode reader, and an NFC reader, and plugged them into a USB splitter. I then used a very simple program to convert a 2D barcode into NFC. The information sent to the POS was the exact same. The POS didn’t know the difference since the NFC phone was transmitting the same data as the barcode. My total cost? About $50 and 20 minutes of my time.
The use cases above required some time and effort to make them work, but here are some things that Google Wallet already does (that Google really should be telling people about!)
Two taps of your phone and you’re done. I’m still surprised as to how many people don’t know this when using Google Wallet. You don’t have to go find the Google Wallet icon in your phone to use it. We have dozens of apps on our phones. Those precious seconds to go find an app make people less likely to use Google Wallet. But NFC gives you the ability to recognize which app to use, in what I like to call "the double tap process." That way, when you get to the POS, you just turn on your phone screen and tap it to the POS terminal. The phone recognizes that you will be using Google Wallet and pops up the pin screen. Then you simply tap again and pay.
Personalization Another thing I’m surprised Google doesn’t mention is how the wallet can be easily personalized. People know the cards in their wallet based on a name, logo or color. We don’t sit there and read the credit card number each time we pull it out of our wallets. I have a few cards in my Google Wallet. One is specific for personal and the other is for business. My real world business card is light blue. My real world personal card is bright red. So that I don’t mix up which card I use, I named my business card and made it blue. I also named my personal card and made it Red. Most people don’t realize they can name their cards and make them the color they want to more easily visualize which card they want to use.
This might sound like a tiny thing, but personalization is key to our lives today, especially with technology. How often do you see a phone with a distinct wall paper or cover or ringtone? People like to make things look and feel like it's their own. The wallet is no different and even small capabilities like personalizing a wallet should be promoted better by Google – and probably expanded further. If I can make my wallet look and work like I want it to, and do it easily, then it creates a higher value to me.
Smarter feedback makes mobile payments better (though you do have to get off your duff and help) The other day I went to a gas station and tried using the Google Wallet. Unfortunately, the terminal was broken. I had to swipe my card instead of tapping my phone. I’ve seen numerous videos and articles of people experiencing the same thing and saying that the Google Wallet "doesn't work."
How about the option to be a part of the solution? When I finished my transaction, I went back to my Google Wallet, and after pressing settings, a pop up window for feedback came up. By using the feedback selection, I told Google that the specific terminal is broken. Google could then help make sure the terminal gets fixed instead of letting the problem linger.
Most people do nothing, and weeks or months could go by before anyone tells the retailer the terminal is broken. Google Wallet makes it easy to take two clicks worth of time to report a problem.
Digital receipts let you know right away if someone has stolen your credit card. Digital receipts are another feature not limited to Google Wallet, since most major banks can automatically send you a digital receipt to your email or as a text message. But Google Wallet makes it easy to set up. It works like this: let's say I’m in New York in Central Park and some thief steals my credit card info and buys a TV in Chicago. In the old days, that thief could probably continue buying stuff and I’ wouldn’t know for 30 days until my credit card bill showed up. With Digital Receipts I’d know in seconds. And then I could call the card company.
The funny thing is, that exact scenario happened to me and I was able to stop the fraud in minutes.
Google Wallet today is in version 1.5 as I recall. With the new update, we now have dozens of new features, and hundreds of possible ways to use it. As it develops, we’ll see more and more ideas and capabilities for Google Wallet. It will require innovative entrepreneurs, and companies that better promote its capaabilities, to give us a great mobile payment experience and new ways to benefit from the possibilities that mobile payments offer.
In the coming weeks and months even more new mobile wallets are coming out. And these wallets have many of the same capabilities. Its time we realize that mobile payments via NFC can be jump-started today with little effort, and offer lots of possibilities.
Einar Rosenberg is a recognized expert in mobile payments who has written multiple papers and spoken internationally on the topics of NFC, RFID, location-based services and Bluetooth. Mr. Rosenberg is currently the CTO of Narian Technologies.