Google Wallet Struggles With Being Open, But On Only One Platform: Its Own

Written by Evan Schuman
June 1st, 2011

When Google last week unveiled its Google Wallet near field communication (NFC) mobile-payment service, its executives repeatedly stressed how open it was. That’s an odd claim to make when a service is only available on one platform: its own.

To be fair, Google may have had little choice, with cooperation refusals from Apple and Research In Motion’s BlackBerry group pretty much forcing Google to go it alone. That doesn’t make the mobile-payment fragmentation any less serious, though. If Apple, PayPal and others opt for their own approaches, which seems inevitable, the fragmentation will make it even harder for consumers to embrace mobile payments and for any retailer to get enough traction for mobile to be profitable.

Indeed, the Google exec who handled much of the rollout—Google Payments VP Osama Bedier—used that event to lay out the case for why multi-platform support is so crucial. At the time, though, he was making the case for openness everywhere other than mobile platforms. Still, his argument works.

“We’re building an open-commerce ecosystem, and Google Wallet is built on top of that open platform. By the way, open is who we are at Google. It’s a deep part of our culture, a part of our history, and we know that open solutions add value for all players,” Bedier said. “Open systems drive competition and innovation. They deliver consumer choice and, most importantly, exponential growth.”

One CIO at a major apparel chain said he is finding these latest mobile moves quite frustrating. “The battleground is becoming pretty well defined—carriers versus banks versus Google versus Apple versus Who Knows—but the winner is less clear. Save for it not being the carriers. They’ve stepped up to their usual standards of excellence,” he said.

Forrester M-Commerce Analyst Sucharita Mulpuru said Google’s choice to roll out a single-platform offering is going to make adoption a lot more difficult. “This is such a non-starter on so many levels,” she said. “If a Droid phone was the only thing you ever needed to complete a transaction, that would be one thing. Alas, it’s not. And no one even asks why NFC has been so challenged, even in markets like Japan, where virtually all devices have NFC capabilities and DoCoMo is behind it. All these guys think they can go at it with payments alone. There’s a reason they call it a network. Good luck.”


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