Ina Fried

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Google Wallet Exec: No Surprise Digital Payments Are Slow Going

It took 50 years for the credit card to become the dominant means of payment, so it shouldn’t be surprising that mobile payments haven’t immediately taken off.

Everyone is expecting change to happen in weeks or months, but it will take time, says Osama Bedier, Google’s VP of Wallet and payments. “We will have mobile payments,” Bedier said, speaking at the Global Mobile Internet Conference in San Jose on Friday.

There’s room for more than one player, Bedier said, but each has to solve an issue. “There’s a lot of ideas and not a lot of problems being solved,” Bedier said. “Credit cards already work pretty well if all you have to do is payments.”

Ultimately, the former PayPal exec said that mobile payments have to either save time, save money or both. Technology can do that, he added. On the technology front, Bedier said he remains a believer that near field communication technology (NFC) will be ubiquitous on both phones and payment terminals within five years. NFC will also find its way into many other places in the logistics chain. “NFC chips will replace bar codes,” Bedier said.

But many believe NFC will take a year or more to take off, especially now that Apple declined to embed the chips into its latest release, the iPhone 5. Other payment companies, like PayPal, have decided to find other avenues to enabling digital payments without it, and companies like Starbucks are relying on something as simple as a barcode.

Bedier said at least half of transactions will be mobile within five years, but remained short on details on how much volume Google Wallet is doing today. “The numbers are compelling,” he said, without revealing any of those compelling numbers.

A rival executive from Scvngr, which runs a payments service called LevelUp, recently tweeted somewhat hyperbolically that Google Wallet has five users.

“We have a lot more than five users,” Bedier said, though he wouldn’t say how many customers they have. He did say that the company doubled its transaction volume in the first few weeks after transitioning its Wallet transactions to the cloud back in August. Still, the company faces some obvious adoption hurdles because today Google Wallet is only available on NFC-capable Android phones through one U.S. carrier: Sprint.

“We’re seeing that trajectory continuing,” he said.

The other three carriers — AT&T, Verizon Wireless and T-Mobile — are backing ISIS, which is launching next week. Bedier acknowledged the lack of support from carriers for Google Wallet. “We haven’t yet seen eye to eye on a mobile wallet solution,” he said. “So far, they have said they want to do their own thing and we respect that.”

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The problem with the Billionaire Savior phase of the newspaper collapse has always been that billionaires don’t tend to like the kind of authority-questioning journalism that upsets the status quo.

— Ryan Chittum, writing in the Columbia Journalism Review about the promise of Pierre Omidyar’s new media venture with Glenn Greenwald