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Saturday, November 3, 2012


Google seems to be preparing a major rethink of Google Wallet, its mobile-payment tool.

Instead of relying on a narrow list of smartphones and an unpopular wireless technology to make payments at retail outlets, Google is coming out with its own plastic card, according to Android Police, a specialty news site.
In a speech at a conference on October 22, Google Wallet chief Osama Bedier promised that "a new way to experience Google Wallet" would come out in November. That same day, Google's website was updated to say that a new version of Google Wallet was "coming soon." This may well be it.

This isn't a new credit or debit card. Instead, it's designed to work with existing card swipers and pass the transaction on to Wallet users' existing, linked accounts.

Say you've got a Citi MasterCard. First you'd get the physical Google Wallet card. Then you'd go online and link your Citi card to your Google Wallet account. Then you'd go to the store and take out your Google Wallet card instead of your Citi card.

If you want to switch to a different card, you open the Google Wallet app and select a different linked card. After that, purchases swiped with the Google Wallet card will switch to the card you select.

Why on earth would you do that instead of just taking out your regular credit card? Fair question.

What mobile-payments pioneers have found, to their apparent displeasure, is that most people are perfectly happy swiping credit cards and that replacing cards with smartphones solves absolutely no real-world problems for regular consumers.

What Google is hoping is that special offers tied to Google Wallet accounts will persuade consumers to switch.

The swipe card may also support transit cards, according to Android Police.

The idea of a card managed online and linked to other accounts is not a novel idea. Marqeta, a startup based in Emeryville, Calif., offers a card on which people can load what amount to virtual gift certificates for local stores; it's linked to a credit or debit card to cover spending over the amount loaded.

PayPal also offers a plastic card for in-store payments; you can swipe the card in any store, with the charge billed to your PayPal account. But Don Kingsborough, PayPal's general manager of retail payments, recently told Business Insider that it's not a very popular option. Instead, 85 percent of PayPal's in-store customers enter their mobile number and a PIN to bill a purchase to PayPal.

We asked a Google spokesperson for comment and didn't hear back straightaway, but we'll update if we do.

Owen Thomas

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