NFC: the future of mobile payments. Eventually.May 25, 2011: 11:58 AM ET
Google and other companies say Near Field Communications will change the way consumers interact with merchants. Too soon?
FORTUNE -- As mobile commerce emerges, companies like Google (GOOG), Square, and reportedly Apple (AAPL) are placing their bets on some form of mobile payment where the users' smartphone becomes a credit transactional device. On Monday, Jack Dorsey's startup Square, which reported the shipment of 500,000 Square card readers and processing of $3 million in mobile payments a day, announced an iPad app that replaces cash registers and lets customers pay for products with their Android or iOS devices. But Dorsey left bloggers hanging when he didn't announce any Near Field Communications capabilities. Meanwhile tomorrow, Google will reportedly make an announcement of its own regarding new advancements in NFC with Sprint (S).
Today, at the TechCrunch Disrupt conference in New York City, Alex Rampell, CEO and co-founder of TrialPay, Stephanie Tilenius of Google Commerce and Payments, and Lewis Gersh from Metamorphic Partners weighed in on the future of mobile commerce, particularly NFC, a promising, if still immature payment method where your phone acts as the credit card without the need for a hardware add-on as say, Square does.
"We're making a big bet on it as a company," Tilenius of Google said. "There is a lot of potential there.Ten years from now we'll all acccept this as a reality." As an example, she referenced an NFC trial with Starbucks (SBUX) that nabbed some 3 million users. She also sees NFC making every day life easier: walk into a Gap (GAP) store, and if they don't have your size jeans, you can have your NFC scanned and have that size sent to you.
Another benefit may be real-time, or near real-time feedback, from NFC-enabled coupons. If a customer uses a coupon, Rampell says it may take up to two weeks for merchants to receive feedback as to how well the coupons performed; with NFC, feedback can be instantaneous. Not only will merchants know sooner, but they can also adjust the coupon on-the-fly to achieve better sales and results.
Gersh, while also extremely hopeful, struck a cautionary note.
"NFC is coming. It's a wave," he said. "But there are a lot of hitches in use cases. People can get a discount from an ad. That's much more simple. But when NFC is in an environment where where 2 seconds make or break the transaction at the merchant level, there are still issues that need to be overcome." In other words, while NFC sounds like the future of mobile payments, and probably is the future of mobile payments, don't throw out your credit cards just yet.