Google Dec. 13 confirmed that it has purchased Zetawire, a Canadian startup whose technology is designed to allow mobile payments via smartphones using near field communications.
NFC is a short-range wireless technology that lets devices communicate with one another. Google CEO Eric Schmidt thrust NFC into the limelight last month when he showed off a smartphone running Android 2.3, which includes native support for NFC.
Google officially revealed that smartphone, the Samsung Nexus S, which leverages NFC software and a chip from NXP Semiconductor.
Ben Kolada, an analyst for The 451 Group, said that Google acquired Zetawire in August.
Kolada said the startup had secured a patent and trademark covering banking, advertising, identity management, credit card and mobile coupon transaction processing.
Such technologies pave the way for consumers to make secure purchases via smartphones by swiping them against contact terminals. View the patent documentation here.
Google, which has acquired more than 40 companies this year, told eWEEK it did buy Zetawire but declined to provide any details of the deal or what it is doing with the assets.
The proof may lie in Android 2.3 and other forthcoming NFC utilities. Currently, Android 2.3's NFC capabilities let users swipe an NFC tag that might be embedded in a poster, sticker or advertisement with a phone and then act on the data read from the tag.
Eventually, Schmidt said at the Web 2.0 Summit last month, Android 2.3's capabilities and applications built by developers will allow the phone to make purchases without using a credit card.
There are likely a couple reasons for Google's reticence to discuss the Zetawire buy. Google's smartphone maker rivals, including Apple, Research In Motion and Nokia, are all building NFC into their future handsets.
It could be that Google is planning other NFC capabilities it has yet to announce, though enabling mobile payments from smartphones remains the big draw at this point. Even carriers Verizon, AT&T and T-Mobile are getting in on this action, forming their Isis mobile payment venture.