Google Goes Hands Free with New App

by on Mar 21, 2016

google_hands_free.pngIn a recent post about the mobile payments landscape, we discussed the strong potential of Samsung Pay as the newest mobile payment service for smartphones. Recently, however, Google released a new platform called Hands Free that is meant to serve as a new payment system outside of the realm of Apple Pay, Android Pay and Samsung Pay.

Released last week to a beta group in the South Bay area, Google’s new product is an app that uses Bluetooth and WiFi to locate point of sale systems. Once a store’s Google compatible system locates the phone, the app sends a photo and initials of the customer to the system. When the customer asks to pay with Google they can simply verify with their initials and the cashier will check them out. The app is available for Android and iPhone users and can be used at local businesses, McDonald’s and Papa John’s in the South Bay area of San Francisco.

USA Today reported that mobile payments “haven’t even reached 1% of total retail sales yet. That number isn’t expected to be hit until 2019.” This kind of information begs the question, do consumers need a hands-free payment app if they haven’t adopted mobile payments at a high rate yet? Perhaps in the future, this app will be a pioneer in hands-free purchases, but Google may be jumping ahead of itself.

According to a Mashable article, in the future the company plans to install in-store cameras to check customer identities with profile pictures in the app. The app’s advertisement illustrates scenarios in which the technology could be useful, such as when users have their hands full or they cannot find their phones quickly.

However, the app is still another competing mobile service in a potentially oversaturated space, given the small total of sales. Despite coming from Google, the app is entirely separate from Android Pay, which could be confusing for consumers. Though marketing the product as a multi-platform app helps Google find customers among iPhone owners in addition to Android users, with the current mobile payment methods accounting for less than 1% of sales, it seems that the audience for this type of product is very small.