Review: Mobile payment needs better compatibility

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A few dozen national chains accept Google Wallet using card readers equipped with MasterCard’s PayPass technology. That includes at least four close to my home or office, but many more accept plastic.

The bigger problem: The app works with only a small number of Android phones on Sprint’s network. The iPhone doesn’t have the hardware. The other big wireless carriers have blocked or made it difficult to get Google’s app even on devices that have the right hardware. That’s because Verizon, AT&T and T-Mobile are jointly developing a competing wallet system called Isis. Can’t everyone just get along?

I was able to borrow a Sprint device for my test and went on shopping and eating sprees at McDonald’s, 7-Eleven and CVS and Duane Reade drug stores. It took several purchases and a few thousand calories to get the hang of it.

The first employee at McDonald’s wasn’t very helpful, suggesting that I try swiping the phone in the thin slot that barely fits the plastic card. I learned that it’ll take more than getting the hardware in place to make mobile systems as ubiquitous as plastic. Customers and employees need to get used to it, too.

Google Wallet lets you store gift cards, but not those from the stores I have gift cards for. The app links to the Google Offers deals service and gives you instant discounts at some retail stores as long as you pay with the app. Again, none are for stores I plan to buy from in the near future.

Because I often had to enter a four-digit security code and tap a second time to complete transactions, I found swiping a card much easier. Although some card transactions require signatures, many merchants no longer bother for smaller sales. Discounts might be the draw, but I’m still waiting for an offer I can use.

_ Square

The Pay With Square app lets you pay simply by giving the store your name, once you add a photo of yourself. The app uses location technology such as GPS to find nearby stores that accept Square. You choose one and tell the store your name. The store sees names and photos for Square users nearby and chooses your account to charge.

Starbucks recently signed on to accept Square. So I tried to buy a chai latte with it the other day, only to face befuddled employees not knowing what I was talking about. Turns out the payments won’t be accepted until this fall, and initially some stores will require bar codes instead of accepting your name.

I searched for other stores but couldn’t find any close by that I needed anything from. I had to go out of my way to buy coffee and banana bread with Square.

Sigh.

I fully understand that a lot has to happen before paying by phone becomes as convenient as credit cards. Just as the Web didn’t have many websites early on, mobile payment doesn’t have many stores accepting it. That’s bound to change over time.

But a few things might keep me away from mobile payments for good:

_ With several competing systems, it’s a pain to keep track of who accepts what, let alone which phones work with which program. As more get announced, mobile payment will be even more of a mess.

Imagine if your dry cleaner takes only dollars, your grocery store takes only euros and your gas station requires Norwegian kroner. Businesses behind mobile payments need to start working together. It’s fine to compete, but make the competing systems compatible.

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