The newly-announced Android Pay is pretty cool – it allows you to pay at retail stores and inside mobile apps without having to take out your wallet or punch a bunch of card details into your glass-screened phone. But the logical conclusion to reducing the friction of paying for things is not tapping my phone against an NFC reader, but rather just not having to take out my phone at all! Well, without the same fanfare that was given to Android Pay, Google said they’ll have a solution for just that.
It didn’t come until a late afternoon session at I/O, but the company’s Hands Free app will allow you to complete transactions at partner locations by simply telling the cashier that you’d like to “Pay with Google.” No verbal passcode or handshake, just “I’d like to pay with Google.”
The website for Hands Free is as of now pretty bare, with an option to request an invite as well as two sections describing the convenience and security of Hands Free. “Imagine paying for things without lifting a finger,” the website says about Hands Free’s convenience. “No digging around for cash, credit cards, or loose change. Just tell the cashier you’d like to pay with Google, and you’re good to go.” In terms of security the website promises that your full card details will not be shared with the retailers you transact with using Hands Free, and that any unusual activity will be reported to you. But that’s about all it says right now.
One good reason as to why it wasn’t mentioned in Sundar Pichai’s morning keynote is probably that the only two confirmed partners that have signed on to support Hands On so far are McDonald’s and Papa John’s, and even then it’ll only be available initially at locations in the San Francisco Bay Area. Interested merchants can, however, fill out a form at the bottom of the site to be considered for the Hands Free preview period.
Some of you may be having déjà vu right now, and if so it’s because we’ve seen this exact product before in the form of the now-defunct Square Wallet. Square Wallet, which wasn’t limited to San Francisco at launch but had the most supported locations in that city due to it being the hometown of the company, was launched in 2011 as a way to allow restaurant goers to “use payment information stored in the app to pay for goods by checking in to a shop via the app and then simply giving a cashier their name at checkout,” as described in Re/code. Three years later it was pulled from the Play Store and iOS App Store with the company saying “Square Wallet provided a very magical experience but didn’t have a lot of the utility value,” or in other terms, it didn’t gain traction.
With all the hype around Android Pay, maybe Google will have better luck. Square for a long time has been more interested in building merchant products anyway, which is largely to blame for the company giving up on its Wallet app. As someone who used Wallet regularly while it was still live, I can wholeheartedly attest to the magical feeling it created. Be sure to request an invite if you reside in the SF Bay Area and are interested.