Commentary

Google Wallet Wins; Softcard Bails from Mobile Payments

Google Wallet is back.

Finally giving up on its mobile payments excursion, the joint venture of Verizon, AT&T and T-Mobile known as Softcard is selling its technology to Google.

In some of the earlier mobile payment days, Google Wallet was innovative and worked quite well. Then the mobile carriers decided to get into the payments game and essentially shut Google out.

I vividly recall Google working perfectly on one of my earlier Samsung Nexus phones. And then it didn’t, courtesy of the carriers, who wanted me to use their payment platform, then known as Isis.

The early days of getting and using Isis were somewhat painful, as I wrote about back in 2013 (A Day in the Life of Getting Isis Mobile Payments Up & Running).

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Part of the issue was the sheer scale of training an eco-system in the world of three separate mobile carriers, all of whom had their own objectives to fulfill.

There also were too many moving parts.

Having to download the app, then find a phone store that had the actual SIM card needed to enable the payments, identifying the person in the store who knew about it and then finding a merchant where the payment system would world. A steep hill.

Things did get better over time, but the handwriting was on the wall.

  • The company had selected the unfortunate name of Isis and finally came around to announcing it was changing its name. But it had no new name to change it to at the time, later introducing its new moniker of Softcard. 
  • Rather than owning the websites of the same names, the Isis website name was paywiththis.com and Softcard’s became gosoftcard.com.
  • Another indicator of what was to come was in a speech at the Money20/20 conference in Las Vegas in October. The Softcard CEO proudly announced that Softcard was being expanded to Windows phones. One could only wonder if BlackBerry would have been next.

I contacted Softcard yesterday but no one had any interest in speaking about any of this.

And all of this was before Apple Pay was launched.

So now the mobile payment space gets more interesting.

Last week, Samsung announced it was purchasing Boston-based LoopPay (Samsung Buys LoopPay; Mobile Payments March Forward) and is expected to incorporate that technology into its Galaxy S6 being introduced in about a week.

That technology does not require NFC (Near Field Communication), though NCF is being included in most new Android phones. And Apple Pay also uses NFC, of course.

It would appear that new Samsung phones ultimately will be able to use its own payment technology or Google Wallet.

Part of the purchase includes the provision that Google Wallet will come pre-installed in all phones from Verizon, AT&T and T-Mobile. It probably will expand to most all Android phones in the future.

The elephant in the room is the mobile payment approach of the Merchant Customer Exchange known as MCX, whose many members, at least at the moment, are not accepting Apple Pay.

Payment terminals at locations such as MCX members Walmart, Best Buy, Giant Eagle, Kohl’s, Sears, Rite Aid, Old Navy, Sam’s Club, Wendy’s, Gap, CVS, Lowe’s, Publix, Sunoco, Bed Bath & Beyond and Olive Garden are essentially turned off to Apple Pay.

In general, this means those NFC payment terminals are not accepting NFC payments, which is how Google Wallet works.

The Samsung-LoopPay technology would work at most if not all of those terminals, even with NFC turned off, so Samsung seems to be in the best shape all around, at the moment.

While all of this sorts itself out, most consumers are still content using cash and credit cards.


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