Only weeks after Google launched its Google Wallet NFC-based m-payment technology into the wild, most of the major handset manufactures (but one) announced their support for the Isis implementation of the model. HTC, LG, Motorola Mobility, RIM, Samsung, Sony Ericsson and DeviceFidelity have all lined up behind the joint venture toward setting a standard for the mobile NFC ecosystem.
AT&T Mobility, T-Mobile and Verizon are the companies driving Isis. With the handset makers as well as the previously announced partnerships with the major credit card companies in the quiver, Isis is poised to do battle with Google. The Google Wallet initiative has one carrier (Sprint), one handset (Google's) and for the moment one active credit card company (with more coming).
The partnerships put Isis in a strong position out of the gate, although these agreements do not seem to preclude the partners' involvement with Google. Samsung, for instance, is the manufacturer of the Google phone model that currently runs its wallet. Motorola Mobility is part of the Motorola entity that Google expects to acquire.
No one appears to be claiming exclusivity arrangements yet. Still, these announcement put a fair amount of throw weight behind the Isis initiative. The handset manufacturers have the tightest connection with the carriers, and three of the four major U.S. operators are part of Isis already. The carriers ultimately determine what hardware goes on the handsets they subsidize.
The NFC payment infrastructure will allow consumers to make payments with their phone with a wave or a tap. NFC (Near Field Communications) requires that the transmitter and receiver be within inches of one another. Because the current convention of swiping a credit card is not exactly a problem that has been begging for a solution, much of the NFC payment model is aimed at added services around the payment itself.
There are still a number of unanswered questions about how the NFC system will evolve. Still unclear is whether and how the Isis players might want to lock Google out of the m-payment market. Also unclear is whether multiple NFC standards could co-exist on the same phone. Do consumers really want to have to lock themselves into a one or another payment network because they chose a particular phone? Or is all of this maneuvering and arms-gathering a preamble to an inevitable deal that provides a single standard for NFC? And while Google claims it wants a more open system that allows third parties to address the NFC chip, we're not sure how "open" open is -- and who gets to share what data or functions with whom.
The technology may be "near-field," but clarity on the models, partnerships and ultimate value for the consumer feels farther afield.