Whaaat?

Google is rolling out a pilot program today that introduces a new way to pay cashiers — and it involves leaving your phone in your pocket.

It’s called Hands Free, and it’s a way to basically connect your phone with a point of sales system using the sensors on your phone. The end result is that a point of sale device is already aware of your phone’s presence, and when you want to pay for something, you can do so through Hands Free.

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Users basically walk up to a cashier, which can detect that the phone is in the area and gives the point of sale system the ability to charge the user’s card that’s tied to Hands Free. The user tells the cashier that they will “pay with Google,” and give their initials to the cashier, who then inputs that and the transaction is closed. Cashiers also have a way to detect what the person looks like and whether it’s the same person in the photo tied to a Google profile.

The goal here is to reduce friction in the payments process. That was the main attempt of tools like Android and Apple Pay: being able to pay for products with just your phone and not having to take out your wallet and pay with a credit card. This is all beneficial to companies like Google and Apple, because it helps bring payments closer to the phone, and increases the chance that they’ll pay for things with Apple or Google with a credit card saved on that phone. And if it’s easier to pay for things on a phone, it’s easier to pay for apps and services like Google Play and the App Store.

But if this tool sounds familiar, it should: Square took a crack at creating a payments product that enabled users to pay cashiers without taking out their phone. That worked with some geofencing technology, while Google’s works a bit different, Bhat said, but the principle is more or less the same — opening and closing a tab without taking your phone out of your pocket. The goal was to make paying for things more of an experience as much as a convenience, but that application didn’t really catch on from Square. In this case, Google can throw its weight behind the tool and it can get preloaded within Android devices, but the challenge is still there for even Google.

The challenge for Google with this tool will be two-fold: getting point of sales services on board, and getting users to adopt it. The former tends to follow the latter, but Google has a suite of APIs that point of sale makers can tap into. The question will be whether the product has hit a big enough scale to justify having point of sale makers integrate this service into their devices — working not only with smaller point-of-sale services like Clover but larger ones like Ingenico.

My 2 cents:

The e-payment game is all about delivering the most effortless solution. Currently, Samsung Pay is the theoretical leader in that it requires no additional investment on the salesperson side; on the other hand, you need a Samsung device. Google’s solution crosses both the convenience barrier (eliminating the need for NFC compatibility) and the platform barrier (technically speaking, you could keep your iPhone and use Google’s software power). The challenges are the same: getting POS and users on board, but the wallet and credit card days are numbered at this rate.

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