Google Drops Hands Free Mobile Payment App

Google says a small number of stores and restaurants supporting Hands Free Payments in the San Francisco Bay Area will end the service after Feb 8.

Google Hands Free Payments

Like it has with several other technologies and services in recent months, Google is pulling the plug on its Hands Free mobile payment application.

In a brief announcement this week, the company said it would shut down the service Feb 8. After that date, Hands Free will no longer work in the small number of San Francisco Bay Area retail stores that have accepted Hands Free payments on a trial basis since Google announced the service last March.

Google's statement offered no reason for the company's decision to terminate Hands Free and merely noted the company had learned quite a bit from the pilot program.

“Based on all the positive feedback, we’re now working to bring the best of Hands Free technology to even more people and stores,” the statement said without elaborating.

When it launched the Hands Free pilot in March 2016 Google had described the application as giving Android and iOS users a way to pay for purchases using voice commands and without even needing to take the phone out of their pockets.

The app was designed to use a combination of WiFi, Bluetooth LE and the location tracking features on a phone to signal when a user was at or near a store that accepted Hands Free payments. When a Hands Free user went up to the cashier to pay for purchases, a separate Hands Free terminal was supposed to show the profiles of all Hands Free users in the store and the cashier would match the user with their profile and complete the transaction.

Google had said it would test the service at a small number of merchant locations including McDonalds, Papa John's and some other restaurants in the Southern San Francisco Bay area. As part of the pilot, Google had also said it would test a nascent visual identification technology involving the use of an in-store camera to confirm the identities of Hands Free users in a particular retail location.

In pulling Hands Free, Google this week encouraged users to continue using its Android Pay app for mobile payments.

Hands Free is one in a growing string of projects that Google and its parent Alphabet have shut down or realigned in recent months in a bid to trim losses from projects that have for one reason or the other failed to deliver on their initial promise.

In January for instance, Google parent Alphabet disclosed that its X division had last year quietly killed off an initiative dubbed Project Titan involving the use of high-altitude drones to deliver Internet connectivity services in underserved areas of the world. The decision to end the project came less than two years after Google had invested an undisclosed sum to acquire drone maker Titan Aerospace.

Similarly, last September Google suspended work on Project Ara, an ambitious effort to build a modular smartphone that users could customize at will using modules that would slide into place on a frame or a baseplate.

The idea was Google would supply a core frame with a pre-installed display, processor, graphics card and some other standard cell phone functionality. Users could then add or swap out modules—for instance, for additional memory or storage or for a high-resolution camera—on the base phone. Google's decision to kill that project came just months after some of its executives had talked about launching the phones in early 2017.

There are other examples as well of Google and Alphabet scaling back or switching direction on big projects that have failed to deliver as expected or have run into problems. For instance, the company has dropped plans to install fiber optic cable in multiple cities around the country and has said it will focus instead on the use of point-to-point wireless to deliver high-speed Internet services.

It has also reportedly dropped efforts to build its own driverless vehicles—as some had expected it would—and has said it will focus instead on supplying autonomous vehicle technology to carmakers.

Jaikumar Vijayan

Jaikumar Vijayan

Vijayan is an award-winning independent journalist and tech content creation specialist covering data security and privacy, business intelligence, big data and data analytics.