Date Published: 7th March 2016

Google has launched a version of Android Pay called Hands Free that allows you to pay for things with your smartphone without actually having to get it out of your pocket or bag. Using an app on your phone, when you want to pay for goods, the cashier simply takes your initials and uses the picture on your Hands Free profile to confirm your identity.

The service is currently being tried out in a few shops in the San Francisco South Bay area using Bluetooth Low Energy, WiFi, location services on your phone and other sensors to let you know when you’re near a participating store. Some shops are using an even more simple system that allows you to pay automatically via a camera that recognizes you and then eliminates the image after the transaction is completed.

There are already a number of different schemes out there to simplify payment: Apple launched its Apple Pay in September 2014 with a demonstration showing how much easier it is just to hold your phone in front of a TPV terminal rather than using a credit card, or heaven forbid, paying with cash. Apple decided to take on Google after users reported problems with the latter’s system throughout 2014, touting its usual “it just works” approach. The similarities between Apple’s launch video and Google’s latest venture are notable:

Google later changed the name from Google Wallet to Android Pay, simplifying the system to make it more like Apple’s. Before that, in 2012, Square had launched Pay with Square, a similar hands-free system that it cancelled in May of 2014 and replaced with Square Order, which allows users to order goods ahead, and then skip the queue. The system identified you from a photograph inputted into the app.

The appeal of these kinds of systems is clear: being able to buy stuff in shops simply by giving your initials and having your identity established by the photograph the shop assistant or a camera sees in an application that has detected the presence of your phone is about as hassle-free as it gets, and what’s more, it’s secure.

In short, it’s almost as if you’re not actually paying. If Google’s trial runs are successful, as is expected, it will launch en mass. This will trigger Apple to respond in kind, meaning the systems would be taken up by many people in a relatively short time.


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