Google Quietly Testing A New Contextually Aware Mobile Payment System – Retiring Wallet?

Alap Naik Desai

Google seems to be in the process of testing a contextually-aware mobile payment system.

Codenamed "Plaso" (pronounced as Play-So), Google appears to be extensively testing a new mobile-only payment system around some of the company's offices. Popular eateries around the company's offices like Papa John's and Panera Bread are quietly participating in the real-life testing of the new payment system that might soon retire Google Wallet.

How will Plaso work? According to The Information, you walk into a store, engage in a transaction to buy something or potentially do so before you get there, and the cashier then asks for your initials. You reply, at which point the cashier looks at the Plaso interface (in this case, on a smartphone), finds those initials, and then [somehow] bills the purchase to you. The cashier locates your initials from a list of Plaso-enabled devices within Bluetooth range of the cashier's device, to ensure you're actually present in the store. Your device's Bluetooth connection is, essentially, a sort of mobile proximity identifier that ties & authenticates you to the purchase.

It isn't clear exactly how Plaso processes payments, but it appears business owners need just a smartphone to conduct transactions. The smartphones may then feed the payment information into a backend operated by Google. It seems likely that this is some kind of "middleware" approach, with the initial transaction going through Google, but the actual vendor's payment processor complete the business end of the deal.

Google Wallet was touted as the next best payment mechanism that effectively did away with not just cash, but magnetic strip based debit/credit cards as well. Google Wallet relied extensively on the NFC (Near Filed Communications) protocol that mobiles were sporting.

However, owing to the relatively nascent nature of the technology, combined with the non-ubiquitous presence of the NFC chips on most modern smartphones, Google Wallet lost steam before its adoption could reach critical mass. If that's not all, Google's competitor in the mobile-based payment system – Softcard – was becoming a bigger threat. In conclusion, Google Wallet's poor adoption meant only one thing - NFC payments aren't resonating with consumers enough, to really change buying habits yet.

However, quite a few businesses in the food and drink sector are eager to build ordering and payment into their smartphone apps to keep customers out of the cashier line. That explains while Apple Pay may be gaining acceptance.

While Google's Plaso might not immediately retire Google Wallet, it could be a worthy successor to its initial attempts at offering simplistic mobile payment solutions.

[Image Credit | Google]