The convenience of "mobile money" was supposed to be a next big
thing for the American consumer, but it doesn't look like that's
happening any time soon.
) this week announced it is adding a debit card made of genuine
plastic to its virtual payments system, Google Wallet, in order to
make it a little more useful to consumers than it is now.
It is an admission that mobile money isn't as compelling to the
American consumer as it is to big business, at least for the
present. Or, at the very least, that the intense competition among
players has effectively prevented any one of them -- including
Google -- from making a success of it.
In short, the devil is in the details, and they are complicated
enough to make anyone but the most determined early adopter
conclude that swiping a credit card isn't that much trouble.
It's easy enough to explain mobile money in broad strokes: Download
an app. Tap your smartphone on a reader device at the cash
register. You're done. A safer, smarter way to shop.
It's also an extremely lucrative way for you to shop, from the
viewpoint of the businesses that are trying to get into it. It
promises a steady stream of transaction fees, plus a flood of
useful and saleable data on your shopping habits.
Banks, technology companies, telecoms, and retailers all want in on
mobile money. So do a number of smaller start-ups. But based on the
slow adoption of Google Wallet, it looks like each of those
competitors has managed only to stifle progress by any of the
That's one big reason why Google Wallet is a dud, at least to date,
despite the company's expenditure of an estimated $300 million in
real money on its development, according to a
Bloomberg Businessweek report
To use Google Wallet, you just download an app, and away you go,
tapping and paying. But there are
a lot of "buts."
You have to use a Google Android phone, version 2.3 or later,
because they come equipped with NFC, or near-field communication,
to enable the tap-and-pay function.
) iPhone app for it in the iTunes store, if you have an iPhone 6,
but you still can't tap and pay with it. Apple doesn't support NFC,
since the company has its own mobile money aspirations, the
Passbook feature introduced with iOS 6.
Moreover, you have to be a customer of
), or one or two smaller competitors, including Virgin Mobile and
US Cellular. You can't use it if your provider is
(VZ), because those companies have formed a consortium behind their
own mobile money product, called Isis.
If you get past all of the above hurdles, you can have Google
Wallet. It can be used at an estimated 300,000 retail locations,
but these do not include
(TGT) stores, because those retailers have their own mobile money
With all of these barriers in the way, Google has begun to
emphasize another aspect of Google Wallet, which is the ability to
send money to a friend within the US via email. That's actually the
primary function of the iOS app, since it doesn't enable
tap-and-pay at stores.
Google clearly is adding a debit card to its Google Wallet product
in order to make it more useful, or at least more intelligible. The
debit card allows users to withdraw cash from a Google Wallet
account balance at an ATM, and complete transactions at any US
store that accepts
So, now the question is why people would want to use a Google debit
card instead of the bank debit cards that they already have in
their wallets. Their real wallets, that is.
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