There might come a time when mobile payments do not even involve having a mobile device on hand. In an announcement on Wednesday, Google unveiled Hands Free, a new app which would enable users to pay for purchases simply by using their voice.
The system is currently in its trial phases in the southern San Francisco Bay Area, and could be used in a number of stores and restaurants, including some branches of McDonald's, Papa John's as well as some local establishments in the area.
Hands Free uses a pretty clever combination of tried and tested technology such as Bluetooth low energy, Wi-Fi and location services in order to allow the app to communicate with cash registers in participating stores. In order to confirm a purchase, a user would simply need to utter the words, "I'll pay with Google."
Though a voice-activated system such as Hands Free would possibly be prone to a number of safety risks, Google has included a number of safety features in the system. Upon saying, "I'll pay with Google," the person at the counter would be able to confirm the user's identity by matching the user's face with that of his/her Hands Free profile.
Google has taken this step further in a number of its participating stores, using an in-store camera that would automatically confirm a Hands Free user's identity. Those who are concerned about identity and information theft need not worry, however, as Google stated that all images and data from the in-store cameras are automatically deleted.
As much as Hands Free is innovative and convenient, it is nonetheless promoted as a completely separate entity from Android Pay, the company's flagship mobile payments system. With consumers worldwide just beginning to embrace the use of their mobile devices as a replacement for credit cards, the timing of Hands Free might be just a bit off.
Had Google offered Hands Free as an upgrade or an option for Android Pay, the company might have had a runaway hit. After all, competitors such as Apple Pay and Samsung Pay both have no voice support as of yet. Thus, adopting a two-pronged approach with both Android Pay and Hands Free might hurt Google in the long run.
After all, other companies who have attempted to use voice-activated purchasing technology have failed before. In 2011, payments company Square launched Square Wallet, which used a system very similar to that of Hands Free. As convenient as the system was, however, very few retailers adopted the system, which led to its ultimate discontinuance in 2014.
With the launch of Hands Free, Google definitely has its work cut out for it.