In one of the worst-kept secrets among Google Watchers, Google is building a payment and ad service that would let users buy products by tapping or waving their mobile phones against a register at checkout.
The service is propelled by Google's NFC (Near Field Communication) technology, a short-range wireless communications protocol.
The technology lets users take a smartphone equipped with an NFC chip, and sensors touch their handsets to a contact terminal, poster or stickers equipped with sensors to make a purchase or retrieve more information about a product or service.
News of Google's alleged payment service comes courtesy of reportage from BloombergBusinessWeek, though if you've been listening closely enough to Google, the company has been intimating this since mid-November.
That's when Google CEO Eric Schmidt waved around his taped-over Samsung Nexus S device.
We later learned that not only was the Nexus S fitted with an NFC chip and software stack from NXP Semiconductor, but it was powered by Android 2.3, which has native support for NFC. By the by, the Nexus S was a blast to use.
Moreover, Google chased the Nexus S news by distributing special stickers with NFC technology to let business owners in Portland, Ore., tout their wares right from their doors.
No mobile payments there, but Nexus S users may stroll from store to store in Portland, touch their handset to the sticker and find out more about what's inside. My Nexus S test unit came with one of these stickers and worked perfectly when scanned.
However, Google did acquire mobile payment technology in August when it bought Zetawire, which patented an app for mobile banking, advertising, identity management, credit card and mobile coupon transaction processing.
Why would Google put so much wood behind NFC for Android 2.3, the Nexus S and Zetawire if it didn't have grand designs for mobile payments?
Worldwide shipments of cell phones with built-in NFC capability will rise to 220.1 million units in 2014, up by a factor of four from 52.6 million in 2010, according to researcher iSuppi.
Google's service may make its debut this year, Bloomberg says, and I would be shocked if it didn't. I would think only product problems would delay Google, which built some of its own NFC capability in house.
NFC-powered mobile payment capability is one of the emerging battle fronts between Google and Apple, which has its own NFC plans for the iPhone 5 later this summer. RIM is working on NFC capabilities, and electronic payment provider PayPal is getting into NFC.
This isn't a fluke folks. ReadWriteWeb's Sarah Perez has a great grasp on NFC and Google's place in the market.
One thing I do know: When Google nails NFC on phones, it will render my current Droid X and other current popular Android phones much less effective. Because this isn't some app that won't work with the latest version of Android.
This requires capabilities baked into Android and a chip, which is not something Google or Verizon Wireless can just push over the air to my device. Looks like I'll be shopping for a new handset in a couple years or so.