For the second time since 2011, your smartphone can be your wallet. Only this time around, the product has nothing to do with Google and everything to do with Isis, a U.S. carrier-backed service that’s now live around the nation. The wallet program represents the culmination of carrier efforts to get a piece of the mobile payment pie.
Politics and business aside for a moment, what does this mean? If you have an Isis-compatible smartphone with NFC from AT&T, T-Mobile or Verizon and a special SIM card with what’s called a secure element, your phone can be used for contactless purchases. Instead of sliding a credit card through a reader, for example, you simply hold your phone close to a point-of-sale terminal to transmit the payment information.
Many recent Android phones include an NFC, or near-field communication, chips inside so they’ll just need the Isis Mobile Wallet app installed. Apple iPhones don’t have NFC but the Isis folks say a special case with an NFC chip for iPhones will be sold. Support for Windows Phone is still in the works.
After installing the Isis app, you’ll need to add credit or debit card information to it. Multiple payment options can be added so you can choose which digital “card” to pay with at time of purchase. The app also tracks any special offers or digital coupons from card vendors and retailers.
So if this all sounds somewhat familiar, that’s because it should. Google rolled out Google Wallet in a limited fashion nearly two years ago. I used it back then — and dozens of times after that — for the exact same purpose.
Carriers, however, didn’t want Google to have all of the payment information and control. Hence, Isis was born. Sprint initially backed Google Wallet and isn’t part of Isis. Google Wallet is still limited by your choice of carrier; you can’t use it for payments if your Android phone is on the carriers backing Isis. So while you can choose what to buy, you’re not always able to choose how to pay for it.