By Harry McCracken | Thursday, May 26, 2011 at 11:40 am
I’m not a luddite. I don’t have an instinctive distrust of Google. But my gut reaction to Google Wallet–Google’s new NFC-based system that will let people make payments, receive “loyalty” rewards, and perform other retail transactions by tapping their phones–isn’t wildly enthusiastic. I’m trying to figure out why.
A few musings on the topic:
I love Google, but I’m not ready to live an entirely Googlecentric life. Google is launching Wallet in collaboration with Mastercard, Citi, First Data, and Sprint, but the whole idea still smacks of letting Google get involved with my financial life in a way it hasn’t been to date. It’s not just the Google Wallet itself–there’s also a Google Prepaid Card and a new Groupon-like Google Offers service. I may warm up to the concept eventually, but this is the first time that Google has announced something and my immediate thought has been “Gee, I’m not sure if I want that intimate a relationship with Google.”
Phones aren’t as dependable as wallets. I can’t remember when I last left the house without my wallet by accident; I do know that the last time I lost my wallet was when I was about fifteen. (And even that one eventually showed up deep behind the backseat cushion in my parents’ car.) But I forget my phone at home all the time, and have had two serious mishaps with lost handsets. (One I got back, one I didn’t.)
Wallets don’t get lost much because they tend to stay in a pocket or purse 99% of the time. But you use your phone for things other than payments, which increases the risk of it disappearing. It’s never fun to lose a phone, but if the day comes when it’s your primary wallet, it could be calamitous. And what do you do when the battery croaks?
The whole idea of loyalty programs and linking my identity and my purchases turns me off. In part because I don’t particularly want my supermarket to log everything I buy, and in part because it’s so clear that my supermarket (mumblemumbleSafeway) isn’t so much rewarding loyal shoppers with discounts as it is jacking up the price for people who don’t use a loyalty card. (I used to boycott supermarket cards, but finally broke down and got one–under an assumed name.)
I assume you’re not required to enter your loyalty info into Google Wallet, but the fact that you can isn’t a huge point in its favor. (And yes, I know I’m inconsistent–Amazon knows and stores every single purchase I’ve made from it over the past fifteen years or so, and that doesn’t bug me.)
Nobody has to come to any permanent conclusions about Google Wallet or the whole concept of using a phone as a wallet right now. For one thing, only one phone–the Sprint Nexus S–is going to support Wallet immediately, and only in New York and San Francisco. (Even the T-Mobile Nexus S, which has NFC, won’t work.) You’ll need either a Citi Mastercard or that Google Prepaid Card to link to your wallet. And a lot of technological plumbing upgrades will have to be done before you’ll be able to use any digital wallet everywhere. (For now, it’ll work at places that support Mastercard Pay Pass–here’s a list of the ones that do in my neighborhood.)
I don’t expect to be one of the last holdouts, defiantly clutching my trifold wallet stuffed with an obsolete item known as “cash” after everybody else has gone electronic. But I’m just as happy to give other folks a shot at being the very first to try this idea. (Lemme know when it works with American Express and an iPhone–then I’ll be forced to contemplate it more seriously.)
How about you?