ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
Waving your mobile phone in front of a cash register to pay for purchases could be the next big thing. The technology for this is well-established in other countries, but only a few stores in this country allow people to use their phone as they would a credit or debit card. We sent Bloomberg News technology columnist Rich Jaroslovsky to take one of the mobile wallets for a spin.
RICH JAROSLOVSKY: So I'm here at the Jamba Juice at the Stanford shopping center. First thing I'm going to do is see what kind of offers I've got. And it looks like I've got an offer here in my Google Wallet for a $2, 16-ounce, all-fruit smoothie. So I think that's what I'm going to have. Oh, let's get a Mega Mango. How about that?
UNIDENTIFED WOMAN: Sounds awesome.
JAROSLOVSKY: And now all I do is tap the phone to the reader at the cash register, and it's giving me a message that says the payment's been made. And it even offers a little wow at the end.
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
SHAPIRO: Okay, Rich, so you finished your smoothie and came into the studio to talk with us about the experience. Welcome.
JAROSLOVSKY: Thank you.
SHAPIRO: For people who have never experienced this, just describe what using the Google Wallet app physically entails. Like, what's on your screen? What are you doing with it?
JAROSLOVSKY: Well, the app only works when the screen is on. So first thing you've got to do is to turn the screen on, and then it requires a pin. At that point, all you really need to do is to tap the back of the phone to the speed pass reader that is on the cash register, and you're done.
SHAPIRO: And is it connected to a Pay Pal account or your actual bank account? Or is it like a credit card? Where does the money come from?
JAROSLOVSKY: Well, the money comes from a couple of different sources, depending on how you've got it set up. You enter your credit card information into the app, and it's stored securely on a chip inside the phone. But there's also the option of putting a gift card on it, and there is a sort of a Google universal gift card that you can replenish with your own credit card if you choose to do that.
SHAPIRO: You mentioned that there was also a coupon for Jamba Juice. Was that just coincidence, or did the app somehow know that you were there from GPS or something like that?
JAROSLOVSKY: Well, I actually went looking to see, okay, well, what offers are nearby? And this is really the secret sauce in mobile payments, because while, yeah, it is kind of a little bit more convenient, that isn't really what's going to get people to use it. What's going to get people to use it is the possibility that they can save money. So I went looking for offers near me at the Stanford shopping center out here in Northern California, and Jamba Juice had a $2 smoothie offer. So the app told me that. I saved it to the app, so that when I went into Jamba Juice, the app remembered, hey, you've got s $2 coupon here. And when I tapped the phone to the reader, it automatically applied the discount. So I got my $2 smoothie.
SHAPIRO: And what about security? Is it as secure as something like a credit card?
JAROSLOVSKY: My conclusion was that it is certainly no less secure than a credit card, and probably more so. Among other things, you do have to enter a pin to unlock the Wallet. The credit card information that you have is stored securely on a chip inside the phone, so that if the phone gets lost or stolen, your credit card information is not easily accessible.
SHAPIRO: And does the mobile company actually make money off of this in the same way that a credit card company will charge a merchant for every transaction that uses the credit card?
JAROSLOVSKY: Well, right now, the business models are still really evolving. Google Wallet is out there right now. They launched last month, and it's really the first of these. And they have a partnership with MasterCard, Citibank and Sprint.
But the other three U.S. mobile carriers - Verizon, T-Mobile and AT&T - have formed their own plan called Isis. It's not yet out in the marketplace, and nobody is quite sure yet how that's going to work. What you do know is there's a lot of money at stake here, and you've got all these big players - the mobile companies, the banks, the credit card companies, the technology companies, the device manufacturers - and all of them want a piece of this pie. And so, in a lot of ways, working out the business models is going to be much more challenging than working out the technology.
SHAPIRO: Rich Jaroslovsky is the technology columnist for Bloomberg News. Thanks, Rich.
JAROSLOVSKY: Thank you.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.