According to The Information, Google is in the process of testing a contextually-aware mobile payment system codenamed "Plaso" around some of the company's offices in cooperation with popular businesses like Papa John's and Panera Bread. That a new Google mobile payment system is under development at all shouldn't be surprising: Wallet's abysmal adoption rate, along with competitor Softcard, have made it obvious that NFC payments aren't resonating with consumers enough to really change buying habits yet. While Apple Pay will go down this tried-and-failed road yet again, it's doing so on the hopes that wider partnerships and better marketing will finally lead to success where Wallet found only failure. Google, though, may be interested in moving beyond the NFC paradigm to something a little less hardware-dependent.
Plaso, according to this report, works thusly: you walk into a store, engage in a transaction to buy something (or potentially do so before you get there), and the cashier then asks for your initials. You reply, at which point the cashier looks at the Plaso interface (in this case, on a smartphone), finds those initials, and then [somehow] bills the purchase to you. The cashier locates your initials from a list of Plaso-enabled devices within Bluetooth range of the cashier's device, to ensure you're actually present in the store. Your device's Bluetooth connection is, essentially, a sort of mobile proximity identifier.
How Plaso payments are processed isn't explained, but TI's source claims that business owners need only a smartphone to conduct transactions, which may then feed the payment information into a backend operated by Google. It seems likely this is some kind of "middleware" approach, whereby the initial transaction goes through Google, but perhaps sees the actual vendor's payment processor complete the business end of the deal. The report isn't clear, though, so there's a lot of room for speculation.
Whether this new system is actually meant to replace NFC payments, too, isn't clear. While Google is probably unlikely to drop NFC support in Wallet any time soon, the lack of adoption may at least make Plaso a potential successor in the long term. What's weird about Plaso, though, is that it sounds a lot like Square Wallet, a service that Square discontinued about a year ago. Square's system was very similar - you ordered goods on your smartphone from the vendor, and when you got to the store you gave the cashier your name, they'd confirm it was you via your profile photo, and then give you whatever it is you ordered. Billing was completely hands-off.
If Plaso is basically this (which at this point it sounds like it is that exactly), there may yet be a potential for success where Square failed to find any.
A number of businesses in the food and drink sector are beginning to build ordering into their smartphone apps to keep customers out of the cashier line. Taco Bell, Starbucks, and Chipotle are just a few of the companies exploring the possibilities here, and it seems like a no-brainer that smaller businesses would look to a (presumably, free) middleware solution for similar functionality, even if it was a little less bespoke to their specific needs. Still, there's likely to be competition in this space, so it's impossible to say how compelling Plaso will be to business owners, or if it will even make it out of the testing stage. Regardless, we'll definitely keep an eye out for it in the future.
- The Information