MADELINE BRAND, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Madeleine Brand.
ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
I'm Robert Siegel.
And it's time now for All Tech Considered.
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SIEGEL: From smartphone to smart phone number, we're going to hear about Google Voice, plus Microsoft's plan to beat Apple at its own game: meet the Microsoft Store. Those tech stories and more in just a few minutes. But first, you've heard of wiring money, but what about wireless money? Imagine you get a call from your son, he needs money. His bank balance is zip. And now imagine, pulling out your cell phone and with a touch of a few buttons, sending him however much he needs, as easily as sending a text message. Well, that's the idea. As NPR's Jeff Brady reports.
JEFF BRADY: Outside of the U.S., millions of people already are using their cell phones to transfer money, pay bills and even buy products at a store. The concept just hasn't caught on here in the U.S. But some big companies like MasterCard and Citibank want to change that. I signed up for a free mobile payment service through Amazon. And set out on the streets of Denver to hand out some virtual dollar bills.
Ms. LISA SINCOVETS(ph): I'm Lisa Sincovets and I'm from Denver, Colorado.
BRADY: Okay. So, we're going to try to send you a dollar here.
Ms. SINCOVETS: Okay.
BRADY: I send a text message to Amazon with the instruction, wait for a phone call.
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BRADY: Then after I authorize the $1 payment, Sincovets receives a text message. So what does it say?
Ms. SINCOVETS: You've got money. You received a dollar from Jeffrey A. Brady. Go to payment at Amazon.com.
BRADY: Awesome. It worked.
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Ms. SINCOVETS: How exciting.
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BRADY: Have you ever used something like that before?
Ms. SINCOVETS: No.
BRADY: So, can you imagine, like, any situation where you might use a service like that?
Ms. SINCOVETS: Maybe, if you're, like, out of money somewhere and you need, like, to get wired money and not around a bank.
BRADY: If Sincovets seems less than impressed, here's why: The process is pretty complicated. Now she has to go home, sign up for an Amazon account and then deposit my dollar into her bank account before she can use it. It would've been a lot easier if I'd just given her a dollar. There are a few people who found a use for this service. Obopay is a mobile payment start-up company that has a business relationship with MasterCard. Folks there referred me to Rob Bergsohn(ph) and his daughter Gabby(ph). She's away at college in New York. He's in a D.C. suburb and he's used Obopay to send her emergency money.
Ms. GABBY BERGSOHN: And the money was ready to access instantly.
Mr. ROB BERGSOHN: That was the big key. So if something came up, you know, let's say she needed to buy a book or something, you know, and she needed a $100. She could just call. I could just open up my Obopay account on the computer.
BRADY: And within a few minutes, the money was in her account. A Boston company called Mercatus has been tracking and promoting the development of mobile payments in the U.S. Bob Hedges is the managing partner at the firm.
Mr. BOB HEDGES (Managing Partner, Mercatus): If you looked at the research we did a year ago, two years ago, anyone over the age of 45 had never heard of it, wasn't interested in it, was almost viewed as a little bit kooky.
BRADY: But he says that's starting to change. And he predicts that mobile payments are on the verge of experiencing the same kind of fast growth online banking enjoyed over the past decade.
Jeff Brady, NPR News, Denver.
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