Google Wallet goes live

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Ever imagined a future without the inconvenience of having to carry around cash, or credit cards, or any wallet at all? Google has brought that future one step closer with the official launch of its smartphone wallet service.

The internet giant’s latest mobile product has gone live, with owners of the Nexus S 4G from US carrier Sprint being the first able to pay for purchases with a simple tap of their phones.

“With Google Wallet, you can tap, pay and save using your phone and near field communication (NFC),” said Osama Bedier, vice president of payments at Google.

Wallet essentially acts as a copy of a credit card stored on a smartphone, with no account data ever being put on Google servers.

It uses an NFC chip embedded in a smartphone to allow a user to “tap-and-pay” for purchases at a checkout register equipped with the PayPass system from CitiMasterCard.

The software required for Google Wallet is being sent to Sprint Nexus phones in the form of an automatic-over-the-air update.

In a blog post on the MasterCard website, gdgt.com co-founder Ryan Block explained how customers could start using Google Wallet:

“Simply install the app and the next time you spot one of the more than 300 000 PayPass locations around the globe, you’ll be ready to go!”

“I’m really excited about taking another step closer to a future where using your portable device to instantly pay is as easy, convenient, and commonplace as making a call from anywhere in the world,” he added.

Although Google Wallet is initially only available to Citibank MasterCard clients who own the Nexus S 4G smartphone, Google does have plans to expand the product.

On the hardware side, the portfolio of phones will be expanded to include a greater range of Android devices.

Bedier added that “Visa, Discover and American Express have made available their NFC specifications that could enable their cards to be added to future versions of Google Wallet”.

Our goal is to make it possible for you to add all of your payment cards to Google Wallet, so you can say goodbye to even the biggest traditional wallets,” he said.

Customers can also use a Google Prepaid card to pay for purchases, topping up the Google card with any payment card, and take advantage of Google Offers, the Mountain View, California-based company’s online discount coupon program.

Stephanie Tilenius, Google’s vice president for commerce and payments, has described Google Wallet as the “next generation of mobile commerce.”

“We’re building an open commerce ecosystem that for the first time will make it possible for you to pay with an NFC wallet and redeem consumer promotions all in one tap, while shopping offline,” Tilenius said.

While Google Wallet represents the first mass roll out of an NFC payment product in the US, the technology has been in use in a number of other countries, most notably Japan, for some time.

Block said that after encountering NFC in Japan, he felt that “the rest of the world was missing out”.

“It was a technology that seemed so simple, yet could be so transformative to our day to day lives,” he said.

Beider feels that the technology behind Wallet means that is safer than conventional credit cards.

“I think anyone who knows credit cards and how they work today will understand the magnitude of how safe this is,” Bedier said of Wallet.

“You can lock this, decommission it, remotely delete the card from the Wallet,” he continued. “And if you try to tamper with the chip, it basically self-destructs.”

Google is defending itself against a lawsuit filed by eBay and PayPal charging the Internet giant tapped into the online financial transaction service’s know-how for the mobile payments project.

Google has released a video demonstrating how Wallet works:

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