Google Wallet Goes Live, But You Probably Won't Be Able to Use It Yet

As rumored, Google just announced that it is officially launching its cell phone-based mobile payment solution Google Wallet today. After introducing the service in May and launching a limited trial at the time, Google today launched it nationwide, in partnership with Citi, MasterCard, Sprint and First Data. For now, however, you won’t be able to just swipe your phone past one of the many compatible PayPass payment terminals unless you use Google’s flagship Nexus S phone on Sprint’s network. Given these limitations, today’s “launch” is really more of an expanded field trial than anything else.

MasterCard and Sprint Only

For now, restricting Google Wallet to one credit card company, phone and carrier means that most of us won’t be able to use it anytime soon. Google hopes that American Express, Visa and Discover will also come on board soon. These three companies made their near-field communication (NFC) specifications available today. These, says Google, “could enable their cards to be added to future versions of Google Wallet.” It’s not clear if these companies are really interested in partnering with Google though (Google says it’s “working” with them in its headline, but the actual announcement isn’t very clear about this point).

Do Mainstream Users Care?

As I have argued in the past, I’m not sure the market in the U.S. is really ready for NFC-enabled payment solutions yet. Those PayPass terminals Google is using, after all, are mostly sitting unused today, as consumers and card issuers haven’t even adopted NFC-enabled credit cards yet. For most users, paying by phone is also more of a hassle than just swiping a credit card.

I’m still standing by my conclusion from back in May: “Using an NFC-enabled electronic wallet simply doesn’t offer enough benefits right now, isn’t significantly more convenient than just using a credit card and depends on phones that aren’t available yet (and that can easily run out of battery).”

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