It’s not often that Steve Jobs’s professional dreams get dashed. But sources tell Bloomberg that within four months, Google plans to start testing a system that lets people pay for things by tapping their smartphone against a cash register — rather than handing over cash or an actual credit card. Apple planned a similar service this year, but Apple is shipping the iPhone 5 without the necessary technology. This gives Google CEO Larry Page a huge advantage when the beta test starts in New York and San Francisco. Rather than just linking your smartphone to your credit card account, Google’s mobile payment service may also access bank accounts, gift-card balances, store loyalty cards, and coupon subscriptions. All of the information would be stored on an NFC chip on the phone. NFC stands for near-field communications. In layman’s terms, that means a way to zap information over short distances. (No one’s come up with a colloquial way to describe the technology yet. But we could foresee a future when the cashier asks if you want to pay for that with “credit, debit, or tap,” err, well, something like that.)
The problem with an NFC chip is that even if your phone transmits the signal, the cash register has to be able to receive it. According to Bloomberg’s sources, Google will pay VeriFone to install thousands of specially oufitted cash registers with various merchants. Apple is supposed to have been developing its own cash register for small businesses. And if we know Jobs, he’ll figure out a way to make them look sleeker and shinier than Larry’s. Hopefully both tech titans are at work on some kind of finger-printing, Minority Report eyeball scanner to go along with this, otherwise losing your phone is going to be as bad as losing your wallet and getting hacked at the same time.