Google is reportedly planning to jump-start mobile payments with a press event this Thursday, followed by a trial service in five major U.S. cities. Bloomberg cites people familiar with the matter who have provided this information and indicates that Sprint’s Nexus S could be the initial handset for mobile payment trials. The Android phone, also available as a GSM model for T-Mobile’s network since December, is equipped with a near field communication (NFC) wireless chip, making it well-suited for mobile payments. We’ll be in attendance at Google’s press event, having received our invite a short time ago.
Bloomberg’s sources suggest hardware and software from both VeriFone and ViVoTech will be used for the wireless payments. In theory, passing an NFC-equipped handset such as the Google Nexus S near a wireless reader would be akin to swiping a credit card in a point-of-sale terminal for a purchase. Coincidentally, I just noticed completely new VeriFone terminals at my local McDonald’s a few hours ago. I don’t live in the anticipated trial locations, but the hardware change gave me pause. And I used an NFC-equipped credit card to make my purchase wirelessly, which leveraged MasterCard’s PayPass technology in the VeriFone terminal. I wouldn’t be surprised to hear that MasterCard is involved on Thursday; the company offers a mobile provisioning solution that just saw its first customer earlier this month.
Although Google is among the first to bring NFC capabilities to a handset — earlier Nokia phones have had NFC chips — it’s almost ironic that Google Android may be the mobile platform to kickstart mobile payments. One of the long-standing complaints about its Android Market is that it’s not easy to make payments, at least when compared to Apple’s iTunes App Store. For iOS devices, Apple has a credit card on file, so one-click purchases are a simple matter. Google accepts credit cards, but the perception remains that Google isn’t a leader when it comes to mobile payments. Perhaps that general perception will change later this week.