Is Google Wallet a virtual game-changer?

Carrying cards and cash on your phone seems like a big call. Google

Is Google Wallet a virtual game-changer?

Carrying cards and cash on your phone seems like a big call. Google

So it’s finally here: Google Wallet, a free Android app that turns your (Google) smartphone into a mobile payment system, launched today.

To do this, the company has partnered with Citi, MasterCard, First Data and Sprint. More banks and credit services look set to follow this lead.

The advertisement (see below) featuring Seinfeld’s hapless George Costanza gives the soft sell for the new technology: our wallets as they stand are unwieldy, chocked-full of receipts and cards.

How much better would it be if we had a virtual wallet, right there in our phones?

By launching now, Google has stolen a march on PayPal, which has revealed, but not yet launched its own virtual wallet.

But the idea’s not new. Virtual wallets – in the shape of a service known as Edy – have been widely used in Japan since 2004.

At the moment, Google Wallet is only enabled on the company’s own Samsung Nexus S smartphone, and it’s unclear whether the upcoming iPhone 5 will carry the required technology to run the app.

There’s been no word from Google about a potential launch date for Australia, which has raised the ire of some Australian tech-heads.

From a user’s perspective, the app couldn’t be simpler: you tap your smart phone on a reader at a point of sale and the money is debited from your designated account.

For added security, users must also enter a PIN in the application to enable each payment.

How does it work?

The app employs something known as Near Field Communication (NFC), a wireless technology that transmits information between an “initiator” (your phone) and a “target” (the payment terminal).

Like Bluetooth, it’s a short-range communication technology. Because NFC uses radio waves for identification purposes, it fits within existing RFID (Radio Frequency ID) standards.

Cash could become a thing of the past. inky