Google Launches Places Test with Japanese Wallet Phones in Tokyo

Google has turned its eyes toward Japan for NFC, launching a trial of its Google Places information and ratings service geared to Japan’s NFC-like contactless-mobile wallet phones.

In a Places blog post Wednesday, Google said it is testing the service using what it calls  “NFC base stations,” installed at a small number of merchant locations in the Roppongi district of Tokyo, near Google Japan's offices.

The Google readers are not actually designed to work with standard NFC phones, but with Japan’s base of 60 million to 70 million phones containing FeliCa chips from Sony Corp. The phones largely support only card-emulation mode, so they cannot read NFC tags, though Sony said it has added reader functions to later versions of its FeliCa phone chips. It's unclear how users then get information about the businesses, but the tap probably helps to open the Google Places Web page for a particular business on their phones.

Google has launched the NFC version of Places service in at least five U.S. cities, including Portland, Ore., and Austin, Texas, enabling people with its Nexus S NFC phones, and later other models, to tap tags embedded in stickers on merchant storefronts to download information and rate and review the businesses.

It’s the first service for Google in its attempt to use NFC to bridge the online and offline worlds and is a prelude to launch of the Web giant’s NFC-based mobile commerce services tied to its Google Wallet.

Google sees a potential market for NFC in Japan, with Japanese operators already putting FeliCa into Android phones from Japanese handset makers. Japan’s dominant telco, NTT DoCoMo, leader of the drive for FeliCa wallet phones, which it calls Osaifu-Keitai, plans to begin the move to standard NFC in late 2012.

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