According to documents seen by TechCrunch, Google Wallet is launching later today a bit behind schedule. As we discussed when the announcement was initially made in May, only a small number of people will initially have access to Google Wallet.
There are only a handful of merchant and retail partners and only one handset currently NFC-enabled: the Sprint Nexus S (although you can affix a sticker to your phone that makes it NFC-capable.) Future Android handsets will also embed an NFC chip.
The limited availability of Google Wallet makes the launch largely symbolic in many respects. But because of Google’s brand clout and visibility mobile payments are now on the radar. And intensifying competition guarantees innovation will continue to happen.
Indeed, beyond Google there numerous other competitors in the segment: Visa, Amex, Intuit, PayPal, wireless carriers, Square and others. Not all of these competitors are pushing NFC; Square and PayPal for example have NFC-free products. It remains to be seen whether and how quickly NFC takes hold. It probably eventually will but adoption may prove slower than Google and others hope.
Changing consumer behavior could prove challenging in the near term. Using plastic cards is comfortable and familiar to most people and many users will see no reason to alter their behavior, unless there are deals or other incentives to get them to adopt mobile payments. There are also some consumer security fears, but NFC payments are in fact more secure than current plastic payments.
Regardless of these barriers, with today’s anticipated launch of Google Wallet (as I said previously), the era of mobile payments has arrived in the US.
The ultimate prize, from Google’s point of view, is a closed loop transaction that yields actionable data for marketers. This represents a kind of “holy grail” for marketing analytics: tracking online to an actual offline transaction. (Calls are a surrogate for offline transactions.)
Here’s the now widely viewed ad for Google Wallet featuring Jason Alexander as Seinfeld’s George Costanza (and his infamous overstuffed wallet). Especially if you’re familiar with the series and the joke, it’s a great product promotion. Strangely it was originally released in August but only recently noticed by people.
Postscript: Google has formally announced Google Wallet. See our story, Google Wallet Now Live, But In Very Limited Availability.