Google Continues Support for NFC; Apple and NFC?–Not So Fast

Google has introduced its new cloud-based Google Wallet, something that had been expected for months as the Web giant wrestled with the disappointing take-up of its first wallet version last September.

Google embraced NFC for the first version of the wallet, putting payment applications, along with coupons and offers, directly on the secure element in the NFC phones.

But it encountered many problems–especially in signing up merchants to accept its NFC-based payment and offers together, as well as recruiting issuers and getting enough wallet phones into the market.

Some observers had predicted Google would abandon NFC in favor of a completely cloud-based concept of enabling mobile payments and offers–perhaps similar to the PayPal mobile-payment model that Google Wallet chief Osama Bedier is believed to have worked on while he was at the eBay unit.

PayPal this year launched its attempt to expand its online payments business to the physical point of sale, mainly by having consumers punch in their phone numbers on point-of-sale terminals. Their payments would be handled in the cloud by PayPal.

PayPal might later add an NFC component to the transaction, perhaps enabling users to transmit their phone numbers to the point-of-sale terminal with a tap of their phones.

But Google believes NFC is still the best way to make the link between the online and offline worlds now.

Tap Transmits Google Wallet ID
The new Google Wallet enables U.S. consumers to add their credit and debit cards supporting Visa, MasterCard, American Express and Discover Financial Services to do both in-store and online purchases.

The card accounts will be stored on Google's servers. But for the in-store purchases, Google will link these credit and debit card accounts to a virtual MasterCard card number stored on the secure element in NFC phones that support the wallet. Google calls this virtual card number the “Google Wallet ID.”

Users will be able to tap to pay at any MasterCard PayPass-enabled point-of-sale terminal in the U.S., with the wallet using the virtual MasterCard prepaid card on the phone to initiate and “facilitate” the transaction. Google said it will charge the selected credit or debit card account in the cloud after the user taps his phone on the PayPass terminal to transmit the ID number from the phone to the terminal.

Google believes the infrastructure of contactless merchant locations in the U.S.–which it placed at 200,000–is sufficient and will grow substantially as merchants upgrade their POS terminals to comply with EMV mandates from the major payment networks over the next few years.

Google also noted that consumers will not need a mobile Internet connection to make a payment in-store if they have previously added a credit or debit card to the wallet. That also is an advantage over purely cloud-based payments, which requires a reliable Internet connection.

Robin Dua, head of product management for the Google Wallet, told me Google would also continue to support SingleTap with NFC, which is designed to enable consumers to pay and redeem coupons, rewards and offers with one tap of the phone.

He declined to elaborate on how this would work with cloud-based payments or how Google would sign up more merchants to support the feature–with merchants mistrustful of Google to begin with.

Predictions of an NFC-Enabled iPhone Premature
Meanwhile, rumors and speculation are again rife that the next iPhone will support NFC by the tech press and bloggers–citing an obscure code dump from an iPhone prototype, the planned acquisition by Apple of fingerprint sensor provider AuthenTec and new patent requests from Apple, such as iTunes gifting via NFC.

But an interview by NFC Times with a source with a key component supplier indicated that Apple will pass on NFC yet again this year.

Another source pointed out that if Apple had ordered NFC chips for the iPhone and other devices, supplies of NFC chips probably would be harder to come by. But the source, a small buyer of NFC chips, said there is no such problem getting chips from the only supplier in a position to supply Apple with NFC technology this year–NXP Semiconductors.

With the release of the next iPhone expected in only six to 10 weeks, there should be more buzz from suppliers by now if Apple were planning to adopt NFC–even with Apple's strict confidentiality policies. But that buzz is hard to find.

And Apple would probably want to support NFC in not only the iPhone but in a range of devices. Despite the speculation that Apple has designs on the payments business, the tech giant would be more likely to want to use NFC to enable users to easily pair their Apple devices and share content. This would require lots more chips, for in a range of Apple devices, from iPods to Mac computers.

A recent visitor to Cupertino for meetings with Apple told me the company is indeed interested in NFC, but he senses that Apple is not ready to act on that interest until it gears up for the iPhone 6, not this year’s iPhone 5–or whatever Apple plans to call the next iterations of its smartphones.

Google’s Secure Element Problem Remains
If Apple enabled secure NFC applications on its iPhone, it would no doubt do so with an embedded secure chip, which it would control.

But only Apple has the clout to keep this chip out if the clutches of mobile operators. Not even Samsung Electronics, which is putting an embedded secure chip in each one of its Galaxy S IIIs and probably all of its other forthcoming NFC models, can control the chip in such markets as the U.S. and most of Western Europe.

This has been one of the most vexing problems Google faced with the first version of its wallet. It has needed control of the secure element for payment and also its SingleTap coupons and offers.

That is a big reason Google has managed only to get the first version of its wallet onto a total of six Android smartphones to date, in addition to its new Nexus 7 tablet. All anchor the wallet to an embedded chip.

But putting the secure wallet applications on a SIM card is even more problematic for Google, since most major telcos in the U.S. and elsewhere have not exactly warmed to the idea of enabling a competing wallet from the Web giant.

For example, Isis mobile operators have blocked the Google Wallet from some Android models.

Yet, even with Google’s new cloud-based wallet, it still needs control or at least access to the secure element in the NFC phones that support the wallet.

Google now owns its own smartphone manufacturer, but has said it will allow its new Motorola Mobility unit to remain autonomous. And, in any case, Motorola only ranked as the eighth largest phone supplier in the first quarter, according to U.S.-based research firm Gartner.

So, Google might need to supplement the NFC phones in which it does control the secure element with bridge technologies to get around operator control of secure elements in other phones.

Still, it remains to be seen whether Google’s new cloud-based wallet with its strong NFC connection will allow the Web giant to overcome the problems it faced with Google Wallet 1.0.

Google certainly will be able to offer users a much greater choice of issuers than the lone bank, Citigroup, that signed on for the first version of the wallet.

Meanwhile, Apple’s interest in NFC is unquestionable, given all of its patent requests using the technology. But the tech giant’s commitment to NFC, at least for the next iPhone, is by no means certain.

If Apple again snubs NFC this year, it would indicate the company believes that the NFC infrastructure–or NFC technology itself–is still too immature to support its all-out emphasis on device usability.

HEADLINE NEWS

Taiwan Banking Joint Venture to Request Tenders for HCE and Tokenization Platform

NFC Times Exclusive Insight – Taiwan’s banking joint venture, Taiwan Mobile Payment Co., has disclosed that it will issue a request for tenders for a host-card emulation and tokenization platform, with plans calling for the technology to be made available to Taiwanese banks for mobile-payments launches by the end of the year.

Apple, Transport for London Face Potential Problems Enabling Apple Pay for Fare Collection

NFC Times Exclusive – Both Apple and Transport for London are trumpeting the coming use of Apple Pay to pay fares on various modes of mass transit in London, including the fast-paced London Underground. But they face a couple of problems.

Apple Announces Addition of Nonpayments Applications, First International Expansion for Apple Pay

Jun 11 2015

NFC Times Exclusive Insight – Apple today announced major new updates to Apple Pay, including the addition of store credit, debit and loyalty cards in the U.S., expansion of the mobile-payments service to its first overseas market, the UK, and a renaming of the wallet app itself from Passbook to Wallet.

Dateline Australia: Reality Check for Apple in Efforts to Expand Apple Pay

Jun 7 2015

MELBOURNE, SYDNEY, Australia – NFC Times Exclusive: On the face of it, Australia would seem like an ideal market for Apple to expand its Apple Pay service outside of the U.S. After all, iPhone market share here now hovers around 40%, usage rates of contactless payment at retail are the highest in the world and major banks are eager to roll out mobile payment.

UPDATED: Visa, MasterCard Tout Tokenization as Android Pay Gears Up; Likely Long-Term Play for Schemes

Jun 5 2015

UPDATED: NFC Times Exclusive Insight – Relatively little noticed amid the widespread coverage of Google’s unveiling of its new Android Pay platform last week are the continued tokenization plays by major payment networks, Visa and MasterCard Worldwide, including Visa’s announcement of a new tokenization program and pricing policies, geared toward such platforms as Android Pay. 

Google Unveils Response to Apple Pay, Pitching Android Pay as ‘Open Platform’; Visa, MasterCard See Tokenization Opportunity

Jun 5 2015

NFC Times Exclusive Insight – Google announced its much-anticipated response to Apple Pay, with an updated host-card-emulation-based payments platform, Android Pay, that will incorporate tokenization,  fingerprint biometrics and in-app payments, in addition to in-store tapping to pay. 

RadioShack CIO: Apple Pay Succeeds Where Google Wallet ‘Flopped’

MELBOURNE, Australia – NFC Times Exclusive: U.S. retail electronics chain RadioShack is seeing 10% of its transactions from Apple Pay in its stores equipped with contactless readers, Michael Carper, CIO for the financially troubled retailer said.

Samsung to Work with Established Trusted Service Managers for Samsung Pay

NFC Times Exclusive Insight – Samsung is hiring established TSM vendors to assist with the provisioning and secure element management for its forthcoming Samsung Pay service, at least in some markets, sources told NFC Times.

Profits Remain Elusive for Contactless Reader and NFC Tech Supplier OTI

NFC Times Exclusive Insight – Israel-based On Track Innovations reported continued negative adjusted EBITDA and didn’t announce any new major reader sales during a recent conference call to discuss the company’s first quarter earnings. Despite a recent patent case win, investors appear to be getting impatient.

Oberthur Sales Expected to Grow This Year Following Flat 2014; Vendor Seeks Higher Profits to Reduce Debt

NFC Times Exclusive – Oberthur Technologies, the No. 2 smart card vendor globally and a major bank card and SIM supplier, had flat sales in 2014, blamed mainly on lower revenue in its telecom business unit from falling prices for lower-end SIM cards, slow sales of NFC SIMs and a hiatus in its contract to supply embedded chips to Samsung.

Identiv Reports Drop in Q1 Sales and Full-Year Guidance; but Says Demand for NFC Tags for IoT Up

NFC Times Exclusive Insight – Identiv reported lower-than-expected revenue for its first quarter and continued losses, though CEO Jason Hart said the company is se

Telco-Led NFC Payments Continue as Niche Market, but Growth Prospects Uncertain

NFC Times Exclusive Insight – Orange in Spain is the latest telco to announce the launch of a co-branded mobile-payments service using SIM cards and NFC phones, one of about 15 or so operators to launch globally so far. But it remains to be seen how many more will follow suit.