Google announced in a blog post yesterday that it would start testing out its new payment service, Hands Free, in the South Bay region outside San Francisco.
The author, senior director of product management Pali Bhat, sounds predictably thrilled about the news, imagining a future in which “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”.
Boy, Google, you and I sure do feel differently about the future of payment services! While you may see me breezily waving my smartphone in front of an enthusiastic cashier, I see myself waiting in line for my morning cup of coffee, grumpy and dead-eyed as usual, pulling out a few coins or my credit card. Why? Because I don’t need another mobile payment app, especially one that asks me to say the words “I’ll pay with Google” to another human being in what sounds like some sort of weird initiation ritual for a Google cult to which I am eternally bound even in death.
Let’s back up for a moment. Google’s not new to the mobile payment realm, having launched Android Pay this past September. Other companies, including Apple and Samsung, are also trying to claim their piece of the mobile payment pie. Google is simply trying to get ahead of the curve by introducing a hands-free version.
At first, the numbers appear encouraging: According a recent report by Crone Consulting, a mobile payment research firm, Apple Pay is in the lead with 12 million monthly users, compared to the five million users that Samsung and Google each receive every month. If millions upon millions of people are using these new services, how bad can they be? Well, as Bloomberg delicately points out, those numbers kind of bury the lead — for people who own mobile wallet-capable devices, “only a tiny fraction” actually use the service. (Fast Company puts those numbers at 6, 4 and 1 per cent for Apple Pay, Samsung Pay, and Android Pay, respectively.)
In other words, millions of people using them isn’t that impressive. People aren’t flocking to mobile payments because there simply aren’t compelling advantages to having a mobile wallet in developed countries with mature debit-card infrastructure. (In some cases, there are even clear disadvantages, like people stealing your money more easily!) Sure, if you’re in a huge rush, it might save you some time, but besides that, it won’t kill you to take out your card or cash and pay.
There are benefits to using your phone to deposit a check into you bank account, or to pay a friend for dinner over a service like Venmo. It’s convenient because the only other option is to get off your lazy ass and go to the bank or to your friend’s house. But when it comes to paying for stuff up front, the way things stand now, there isn’t much of a difference between pulling out your phone and pulling out your card or crisp note. Even the “hands free” concept, which should theoretically appeal to the staggeringly lazy person in me, isn’t enough of a nudge.
Remember: The reason companies are racing to develop the technology and corner the market is not necessarily because there’s anything in it for you — they’re just hoping to cash in on the enormously lucrative transactions industry that’s currently monopolised by others.
Please, for the love of god, get off my lawn and leave me and my ancient forms of money transferral alone.