Google's hoping you're ready to put your money where your phone is.
Yeah--you read that right. Google announced the launch of a new mobile payment system called "Google Wallet" on Thursday. The service lets you store your credit cards inside your smartphone, then use the device to make contact-free payments. All you do is wave your phone in front of a special sensor, and--hocus pocus!--the payment is made.
Google Wallet isn't magic, though (hey, this isn't Apple we're talking about). It uses something called Near Field Communication to let your phone communicate wirelessly with sensors at stores' checkout lanes. Support for Near Field Communication, or NFC, is built into Google's Android 2.3 (Gingerbread) operating system. A phone also needs the right hardware to be able to put it to use.
Now, I know: This all sounds a bit wacky. The whole mobile payment concept, after all, is new and uncharted territory for most of us. That's why I've put together this massive Google Wallet FAQ. Read on, and get answers to all your burning questions.
Who can use Google Wallet?
Anyone with a compatible phone. To start, the service will support only Google's Nexus S 4G phone on Sprint. Google says, however, it'll be working to add more devices as time moves on. The service is also being offered only in the United States as of now.
So if I have any other phone, I'm just out of luck?
Not necessarily. As reported by TechCrunch, Google is working on a special kind of sticker that will allow non-NFC-compatible phones to access the Google Wallet service. It'll reportedly be a more limited experience than you'd get on a fully supported phone, but it'll at least let you make basic credit card payments.
What about non-Android phones?
Google has yet to mention anything about support for phones outside of its Android operating system. According to IDG News reporter Nancy Gohring, Google representatives at Thursday's Wallet event "did not respond to a question about whether other kinds of phones are welcome on the platform."
Will Google Wallet work right now?
Whoa there, Nelly--not yet. Today was just an announcement. Google says it's field-testing the Google Wallet technology right now and will release it publicly "soon."
Will Google Wallet work with any credit card?
Not exactly. At launch, Google Wallet will integrate only with Citi MasterCards. The service will also have a built-in "Google Prepaid Card" that can store money added from any other credit card. (Google even gives you a free $10 credit on the prepaid card when you first sign up.)
Google says it's "working quickly" to add more credit card options into the service and plans to eventually support "all the cards you keep in your wallet today."
Will Google Wallet work with any other kinds of cards?
In some cases, Google Wallet can store loyalty cards--store memberships and the likes--and gift cards, too. Google envisions the Wallet program one day handling things like driver's licenses, hotel keys, and even concert tickets, too.
Will most stores accept Google Wallet as a payment?
"Hundreds of thousands" of businesses are already set up to do it, according to Google. The reason: Google Wallet uses MasterCard's PayPass system to accept transactions on the merchant end, and that system is already fairly widely deployed across the U.S. You can find a list of places in your area that'll work with Google Wallet.
So how exactly will I make a Google Wallet payment?
When you're in a store that supports MasterCard PayPass, you'll type in a PIN and wave your phone in front of the PayPass terminal when it's time to pay. It's just like swiping a credit card--except, you know, without the actual credit card or swiping motion.
Will I get a receipt?
Yep--just like normal. Later this year, though, Google is planning to tack on a new feature that'll let stores send receipts electronically right back through the Wallet application.
What if I'm in an area where I get bad reception?
Doesn't matter--Google says no network connection is needed to make a Google Wallet payment.
What if my phone's battery dies?
If your battery dies, you're out of luck. The phone has to be powered on in order for Google Wallet to work.
Will Google Wallet cost me anything to use?
Nope, not a thing (aside from the emotional cost of strangers' stares as they look at you in bewilderment).
There is one exception, though: If you opt to use the Google Prepaid Card part of the service, you may eventually run into fees. Google says adding funds onto that card will be fee-free "at least until the end of 2011"--which makes it sound like some type of cost might be in the cards, so to speak, at some point down the line.
Will my Citi MasterCard automatically work with Google Wallet?
Probably, but you can double-check to be sure. Any card added to Google Wallet will also have a $100 payment limit at first; you'll have to get an authorization code from Citi to activate your full credit line.
Next: More Google Wallet FAQs, including privacy and security concerns