Google just finished announcing Google Wallet. This is their NFC based payment system. In reality it is a lot more. You can read the details here. I have talked about this before. I don’t want to regurgitate details already covered but I do want to cover a few obvious items and some not so obvious one. The first involves why Google is doing this in the first place. In the near term (more about this later) they are making nothing on the transactions run through Google Wallet. The seeming financial beneficiaries are the store involved, the credit card company and the clearing house. We must ask our selves what Google’s business model is. It’s advertising. Targeted advertising is more valuable and hence able to fetch a higher price than random advertising. In the near term this is all about knowing who you are, where you are, and how you spend your money. If you are getting a little edgy about your privacy there’s a reason. You won’t have any. Google already knows more about you than the government does and that knowledge base is growing. Google Wallet extends that knowledge base. You do get benefits in return. For giving up your privacy you will gain ease of use and discounts on your purchases.
Watching the players in this was interesting. Each took their assigned segment. Google proclaimed they were the altruistic software provider that happened to make money on advertising but nothing else. Sprint was happy to be the carrier placing the services on the phone. Citi wants to be the bank involved, Mastercard the credit card company and lesser known First Data the clearing house. Then there was the lineup of retailers happy that it would be easier to part you from your money. In many ways, players like Mastercard, First Data and Citi have little choice. This is going to happen with or without them. All of these players will be near term winners. I wonder, however, if any of them have a little fear about the long term future. The immediate losers are companies like Groupon. The retail coupon business is slipping into a Google business unit. Groupon isn’t a very large outfit nor are the others like it. I doubt many will see this as a big deal. A bigger potential loser is PayPal. Not mentioned was the fact that Google Wallet will quickly pick up the capability of PayPal. All of this is relatively near term. What happens later as mighty Google and it’s rivals Apple and Microsoft seek new avenues for increasing revenues? Google, with the world’s most powerful computer network, will have to ask itself why so much of this process, including the profits, goes to others. Perhaps they will decide to become the clearing house and edge out First Data. After that perhaps Mastercard will be a target. I doubt they will want to be your bank but who knows. Some of those faces that were smiling today might be wearing frowns in ten or fifteen years.
For the consumer, Google Wallet and related moves will mean a further increase in retail efficiency. Generally this is a good thing. Purchasing will get easier and tracking purchase will get easier too. Lost receipt issues will go away. Coupons will be easy to use and not a low paying paper cutting job as it sometimes seems. While privacy will diminish, it will mean advertising that is relevant and generally useful.
I’m a semiconductor guy. What does this mean for the chip business? It means volume in everything related to this process. It means smartphone sales, and the chips inside them, will increase. It means lots of readers being deployed so stores can accept Google Wallet. The reach doesn’t stop there. Behind all of this will be massive data centers and a lot of network bandwidth. That means all of the chips that support these areas have a bright future.