Google Wallet opens for business, Visa gets on board

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Google Inc. is taking another step toward making the credit card obsolete, firing up its digital payment service that will enable people to make purchases simply by waving their smartphones at the cash register.

The Google Wallet also got a boost by bringing in Visa, the world’s largest credit card company. MasterCard was already on board. Both Visa and MasterCard have credit card terminals at hundreds of thousands of locations that will work with wireless purchasing. Google said it was now working to include support for Visa, American Express and Discover accounts in future versions of the software.


But a caveat to the would-be wallet free: When Google’s app comes out this week, hardly anyone is going to be able to use it. The app, which will be released as a downloadable ‘over the air’ update, is available only to Sprint wireless customers -- and of those, only owners of the Sprint Nexus S 4G smartphone. Sprint was one of Google’s original partners on the project, so the company’s customers get first dibs on trying it out.

Smartphone commerce will really get kick-started next year when a whole raft of phones are expected to have the crucial technology that makes it possible. That’s near-field communication, or NFC, which we wrote about earlier this year.

The other problem is that NFC-enabled credit card terminals are still relatively rare -- though they are now deployed at hundreds of thousands of locations, credit card giants like Visa and MasterCard have tens of millions of locations worldwide.

Still, the vast international payment infrastructure is not going to change overnight, and if nothing else, early adopters will be able to get some cocktail party mileage out of it.

(At certain limited types of cocktail parties, that is.)


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-- David Sarno