Near field tech getting nearer in Android smartphones

by Howard Wolinsky

Android phones later this year finally will serve as wallet substitutes.

Google (GOOG) will be working with MasterCard (MC) and Citigroup (C) to enable consumers with Android smartphones to make purchases by waving their devices at readers at checkout counters, Wall Street Journal is reporting.

VeriFone Systems (PAY) is getting ready to join the party using near field communications—the technology embedded in the devices—by making contact-less readers available in more retail stores.

“The Google-backed system, which is expected to be released this year, marks the latest effort to broaden the uses of smartphones for everyday activities—from chatting to emailing to shopping,” WSJ said. “The telecom, technology and financial-services industries all are looking for strategies to make them leaders in the evolving business of getting consumers to pay for products with their phones.”

NFC has been available in Asia, but has been slow to come to the US.

Apple (AAPL) is getting ready, too.

Appolicious reported in January on rumors about Apple working to incorporate near field communications technology—the technology used for these electronic wallets— into its devices. Apple has engineers on the case and has been hiring NFC talent and developing intellectual property.

Google may get there sooner. It has built NFC into its Nexus S Android device.

Part of Google ad scheme

Google isn’t interested in a cut of the transaction fees, which would be encouraging to the money guys. Rather, the newspaper said, Google wants in on the data as part of its ad empire, offering retailers information to help target ads and discounts to mobile-device users.

Apple will benefit if the smartphone-as-wallet concept catches on. It will be another reason to buy iPhones and iPads. But Apple may want to be your banker, making NFC an extension of its iTunes and App Store money machines.

Verizon (VZ) and AT&T (T) want in, too. They said last fall they would be teaming up on ISIS, a venture to enable consumers to make purchases with their smartphones. Discover Financial Services (DFS) would process the payments.

One reassuring thing for consumers: NFC should be safe.

“Because it's contact-less there's a perception people can grab it from thin air, but it's actually a more sophisticated technology than credit cards with a magnetic stripe, making it more difficult to steal a consumer's payment information,” Nick Holland, a mobile-transactions analyst at Yankee Group, told WSJ.