Google Tests Hands-Free Mobile Payment App for Android, iOS
Six months after launching Android Pay, Google is ready to start testing a different kind of app that will let people make mobile payments even more easily, without payment cards or smartphones. Instead, the Hands Free app uses Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, location data, facial recognition technology and retailers' in-store security cameras to confirm people's identities and enable purchases via their payment information saved through Google.
Available on both Android and iOS devices, Hands Free is being piloted with a limited number of businesses in the South Bay area of San Francisco, according to Google. Retailers participating in the tests include a few McDonald's and Papa John's restaurants, along with some local eating establishments.
Google is offering early users who download the app discounts of up to $5 off their first purchases using Hands Free. The app works with Android phones running Jelly Bean 4.2 and up and iPhone 4s and later models.
'Exploring the Future of Mobile Payments'
While Google has been expanding Android Pay to new outlets and markets since its launch, "we also wanted to explore what the future of mobile payments could look like," senior director of product management Pali Bhat said today in a post on the Google Commerce blog. "Imagine if you could rush through a drive-thru without reaching for your wallet, or pick up a hot dog at the ballpark without fumbling to pass coins or your credit card to the cashier."
The result of that thinking is Hands Free, an app that combines several technologies to verify identities and enable quick and cardless/phoneless payments. Here's how it works:
A user who has downloaded the Hands Free app and has his smartphones with him can make a purchase at a participating store just by telling the cashier, "I'll pay with Google." The cashier then confirms the buyer's identity by checking the in-store camera's image with the person's initials and Hands Free app profile.
After every purchase the camera image and data for that buyer are deleted, ensuring that information is no longer accessible to the retailer. None of the information is sent to or saved on Google servers, the company added. Google will also send instant notifications to a buyer's smartphone after every purchase, and will alert a user if it detects any unusual activity on his account.
Market 'Still Wide Open'
For the moment, Google's not saying any more about how long the pilot will last or when it might expand Hands Free to other markets and retail partners. Merchants who are interested in testing the app can submit their details via a form on the Hands Free Web page. Where the app goes from here will likely depend upon the feedback Google gets from both users and participating businesses.
"[T]here is plenty of room for innovation from Google and others," Greg Weed, director of card performance research at the research firm Phoenix Marketing International, told us. "At the same time, the benefits of hand-free in-store purchases -- transactional speed/convenience and security -- appear to largely overlap with promised benefits from phone-based in-store purchases. This suggests that hands-free technology may not solve some of the more fundamental challenges faced by phone-based in-store purchases."
The success of the technology could ultimately depend on many factors, including how comfortable buyers are with apps that recognize their faces and physical presence in a store, Weed said. That level of comfort could also be affected by many things, including the type of store, items purchased and dollar value of the purchase, he said.
"Hopefully, Google's ongoing efforts at innovation will not eclipse the need to build the market for in-store, phone-based purchases via Android Pay," Weed said. "Google has the resources to promote and build Android Pay in a way that they did not do during the Google Wallet years prior to Apple Pay."
Although the market is wide open to many innovations, Weed said a lot of work is still needed to build solid use cases for digital in-store purchases versus plastic payment card transactions.
Image Credit: Google hands-free payment app screenshot via Google Play.