Isis launched its mobile payments platform in Salt Lake City, UT and Austin, TX today, in a limited, initial rollout that's probably best viewed as a tech test more than an NFC payments panacea. We've know for quite some time that these would be Isis' launch markets (after numerous delays), and we also had a basic idea of how the system would work: NFC. What wasn't so widely-known is the fact that Isis uses the SIM secure element method to store payment credentials.


This is in contrast to Google Wallet's method, where your virtual MasterCard (used as the medium through which your payments are processed) is stored in a secure element that is typically included as a part of the NFC chip.

This means that in order to use Isis, your phone must have an Isis-friendly SIM card. And that in turn means that in order to use Isis on an older handset (read: all Isis handsets so far), you'll need to go to your local carrier store and get a new SIM. The SIM is (we're assuming) free, but I wouldn't doubt if this one little step ends up being a substantial barrier to initial adoption, until those SIMs are just included as standard with new phones.

Anyway, here's the (incomplete) list of supported phones:

  • Verizon (official PR)
    • DROID Incredible 4G
    • DROID RAZR HD / MAXX HD (by end of October)
    • Galaxy S III (unknown if supported at launch)
  • T-Mobile (official PR)
    • Galaxy S III
    • Galaxy S Relay 4G
    • Galaxy S II
    • Amaze 4G (by end of 2012)
    • Galaxy Note II (by end of 2012)
  • AT&T (official PR)
    • One X (unknown if supported at launch)
    • Galaxy S III (unknown if supported at launch)

If you're not familiar with Isis, you'll probably be hearing about it a lot more in the next year. Isis is, technically speaking, an independent company. But its existence rather heavily depends on a $100 million capital investment split between AT&T, T-Mobile, and Verizon. Those three carriers have all chosen Isis as their official mobile payment platform, and it's widely believed that this decision has led to some economic and technical collusion against competing systems like Google Wallet, whose only national carrier support comes from Sprint. And that hasn't exactly gone well.

While Wallet now does support all credit cards (through a "virtual card" workaround), it remains to be seen if Google will ever be able to get over the "supported device" hurdle that has so plagued it. Even on day one of launch, Isis' handset support is already a lot more appealing than Wallet's. And that gap, unless something changes, is only bound to widen, as the carriers now have real motivation to make hardware compatible with an NFC payment service.

It's only two cities, but if you look at the businesses, the list really is quite impressive. In Salt Lake City, there are 493 individual business locations equipped with Isis-friendly terminals, and in Austin, there are 463. That list includes:

  • 7-Eleven
  • BP
  • Chevron
  • Valero
  • Rite Aid
  • McDonald's
  • Macy's
  • Jamba Juice
  • Taco Cabana
  • B&H
  • Petco
  • Home Depot
  • Sports Authority
  • Whole Foods
  • Foot Locker
  • Jack In The Box
  • Dairy Queen
  • Whataburger

You may have noticed that these big, recognizable chains map on quite well to the list of MasterCard PayPass partners, and thus are all probably Google Wallet-compatible, as well. But there are hundreds of smaller businesses in there, too. While expanding the geographic scope of Isis' coverage will obviously be a big obstacle in the coming years, the list of compatible businesses and phones at launch will definitely make for an interesting microcosm of the mobile payments battle.

As to cards, while Isis does only support Chase, Capital One, and American Express cards for now, we know that all the major payment processors are already on-board with the system. And if you have credit cards, chances are you have one from the aforementioned three. Along with compatibility promises from pretty much every major point-of-sale terminal company operating in the US, it does seem that Isis has been doing its homework.

We'll be watching this unfold carefully, and I'm sure Google will, too. And if you're in Salt Lake City or Austin and have a compatible device (remember - you need a new SIM card), check out the apps for each carrier, below.

T-Mobile version

Verizon version

AT&T version

David Ruddock
David's phone is whatever is currently sitting on his desk. He is an avid writer, and enjoys playing devil's advocate in editorials, and reviewing the latest phones and gadgets. He also doesn't usually write such boring sentences.

  • http://www.androidpolice.com/ Artem Russakovskii

    3 separate apps, one per carrier? Seriously?

    • ranova

      that and the requirement to get a "secure" sim card? Good luck on adoption.

      • Anand Thakur

        More than likely new phone shipments from these carriers will start shipping with ISIS-friendly SIMs in the box. Many of the listed phones already require micro-SIMs so most existing customers are already having to do a SIM swap to migrate their account from a full size SIM to a micro-SIM.

    • http://codytoombs.wordpress.com/ Cody Toombs

      It gets worse, the size of the app on each page is listed as 'varies by device', which is a pretty universal indicator that they are using multiple apk support. I get the feeling that they built an apk for each and every unique device they support.

      There's nothing significantly different about the description text other than carrier names, and all but the first screenshot on each page matches, and that first screenshot shows a unique carrier logo. If they are already going to the trouble of multiple apk support for each device, it would have made more sense to have a single install page. I get the feeling that one carrier ($10 on Verizon) demanded to get their branding into the screenshots, and the others followed suit. It's particularly dumb because it means that ratings and comments are going to be split across all 3 carrier versions, which means the popularity and exposure will further inhibit early adoption.

      • Matthew Fry

        I guess we'll find out the time-old questions of: "Which carrier's users review the most?" "Which carrier's users adopt new tech the fastest?" and "Which carrier's users are the biggest idiots?"

  • ranova

    augh, this is all annoying. But in the end, doesn't really matter if its still using NFC technology. The only thing that is holding every merchant back on NFC payments is Apple. NFC payments will take off once/if Apple introduces NFC into their phones, unfortunately...

    • jammer

      I agree. We need some iSheep to start the mobile payment movement. :)

    • RaviShah

      agreed. atleast with apple it'll be centralized and not a fragmented mess like isis is appearing to become.

  • http://elder-tylers-blog.com/ pache71

    .... I hate this company... give me my google wallet back.

  • jammer

    I imagine we'll be seeing a bunch of forced OTA "updates" on supported phones to install these apps.

    More bloatware FTW!

  • http://www.facebook.com/Shad0wguy Chris Jutting

    Not that I care to use it, but why isn't the Galaxy Nexus listed?

    • http://www.androidpolice.com/ David Ruddock

      Because this only works on carrier-subsidized phones, because the carriers are the ones backing it. And regarding the Verizon version of the Galaxy Nexus, it makes perfect sense given the whole Wallet slapfight that Google would refuse to play ball with Isis, and that Verizon would have little interest in supporting it.

  • Matthew Fry

    Well despite all the problems Isis brings, I'm certainly going to try and use it as much as possible here in SLC. One issue-prone NFC-based payment system is better than none, and the kinks will eventually get ironed out.

    edit: Speaking of problems... that list of businesses is the biggest cluster**** I've ever seen. It is completely nonsensical. I've gone 15 pages in and haven't found businesses around my house. I don't know if they don't exist or they are just 30 more pages in...

    edit2: 37 pages in I found a chevron down the street from work. yay.

  • Jon Garrett

    Incompatible with ALL of my devices. 3 of which have NFC chips !!! WTF !!! I hate you AT&T!

  • mattpyles

    Barbacoa Mexican Grill as well!