EDITORIAL: Forget the mobile; Google looks to Hands Free payments

google-hand-freeThis editorial was first released on Monday 7th March. Contactless Intelligence Weekly News Review Editorial – Week 10, 2016:

Last week I spoke about the imminent arrival of MasterCard’s ‘Selfie Pay’ in the UK. This week we appear to have continued the theme of biometric enabled mobile payments with the release of a new Google app: Hands Free.

It’s a mobile payment solution that doesn’t require you to take your phone out of your pocket and also relies upon facial recognition. Specifically, Hands Free uses face biometrics and your phone’s location as two identifying factors to ensure it’s you making the payment.
The user downloads an app called Hands Free from Google Pay or the iOS App store. The consumer fills out a profile and uploads a picture

Leveraging the phone’s location sensors, Bluetooth and Wi-Fi, a consumer’s presence can be immediately picked up once they enter a store that is enabled with Hands Free. The consumer walks up to the checkout and simply tells the cashier “I’ll pay with Google.” The cashier asks for the consumer’s initials, and authenticates the consumer via those initials and the picture. “It’s instantaneous,” said Pali Bhat, Senior Director of Product Management at Google said in a recent interview. “We’re able to instantly make sure the transaction is processed with no friction at all.”

“While the pilot is still in early stages, we’ve come to a point where we’re ready to invite people in the South Bay to test Hands Free with us. Hands Free is currently available on Android and iOS devices and is rolling out to a small number of McDonald’s, Papa John’s, and local eateries in the area.

Once you’ve installed and set up the app, Hands Free uses Bluetooth low energy, Wi-Fi, and location services on your phone to detect whether you’re near a participating store. When you’re ready to pay, you can simply tell the cashier, “I’ll pay with Google.” The cashier will ask for your initials and use the picture you added to your Hands Free profile to confirm your identity.

At select stores, we’re also in the early stages of experimenting with visual identification so that you can breeze through checkout even faster. This process uses an in-store camera to automatically confirm your identity based on your Hands Free profile picture. All images captured by the Hands Free camera are deleted immediately”, writes Bhat in the Google Commerce blog.

Once the transaction is finished, the user receives a notification on their phone letting them know the payment went through This can also be used to head off any suspicious activity on your account. Hands Free works with Android devices running version 4.2 (Jelly Bean) or higher, and the iPhone 4S and up. Interestingly, Google is at pains to point out that new pilot program is not a part of Android Pay.

The release of Hand Free is certainly serendipitous. Figures released by Google last week showed that since the launch of Android Pay, the company has averaged 1.5 million new registrations each month in the US alone, with over 2 million locations that accept tap and pay.

In fact other research numbers released last week from investment firm Piper Jaffray indicate a thawing in consumers attitudes towards mobile payments in the US. In a survey of 507 value added resellers and independent software vendors, the firm found that 44% of their point-of-sale merchant customers are already using or have requested more information about NFC payment terminals. Among those interested in contactless payment solutions, 67% of merchants expressed a desire to support Apple Pay. That was by far the most popular option among merchants, the poll found, easily besting second-place finisher Android Pay.

Coming in third with just 8% was PayPal, while only 7% of merchants expressed a desire to support Samsung Pay. “We believe it is telling that PayPal, who has been the leader in digital payments, so significantly under-indexed Apple Pay and Android Pay,” analyst Gene Munster wrote in a note to investors. While the survey reflects poorly on PayPal, Munster said it’s an encouraging sign not only for Apple, but for digital wallets in general.

Still, he doesn’t expect Apple Pay to greatly impact the company’s bottom line — Piper Jaffray’s estimates call for less than 1 percent of Apple’s revenue and earnings in 2017 to be Apple Pay related. “Apple Pay’s significance is an engagement tool, which longer term is a must-have for any successful phone as cash slowly goes away,” Munster said.

If there is anything that I take away from the last few weeks of news releases covering mobile payments, its that there still no ‘one size fits all’ solution out there yet. In order to keep innovation moving forward  – perhaps that’s a good thing. Ultimately though, it going to be the users that choose exactly what size is the best fit.

That’s how it should be.

PS – One last thing. On a re-read of this editorial I couldn’t let it go. This so reminds me of a joke I heard not too long ago. It’s just that I recently took out all of the German names from my phone’s address book and now it’s ‘Hans free’.

Boom. Boom.

Steve Atkins,
Contactless Intelligence