Google needs to be open about Google Wallet, analyst says

Urges Google to share its security API

Google launched its Android mobile operating system as an open platform, but the company hasn't been very open about how it's working with Verizon Wireless on the Google Wallet mobile payment app on the Galaxy Nexus, an analyst said Thursday.

"Right now, Google presents its [Google Wallet] solution as a winner-take-all, closed solution, not at all open as it would have most believe," said the analyst, Bob Egan of The Sepharim Group.

Egan, a longtime mobile payment technology analyst, said Google or its semiconductor partner in mobile payments, NXP, has refused to release the API related to the secure element (SE) that Google is using in smartphones equipped with Near Field Communication technology. NFC makes it possible to tap a smartphone at a payment terminal in a store to transfer funds to make a purchase.

The API is needed for developers at wireless carriers such as Verizon and its partners in the Isis mobile payment consortium to be able to work with Google's secure element in the Galaxy Nexus and other smartphones, Egan explained.

"The really major issue is that Google or NXP has not released the API for anyone (including Verizon or its partners) to [be able to] design into the Google SE," Egan said in emailed comments.

If Google or Samsung, the maker of the Galaxy Nexus, doesn't release the SE's API, "then one can't really blame Verizon" for not supporting Google Wallet in the dust-up over the yet-to-be-released Galaxy Nexus. An SE contains a user's credit-card information and other personal data, often on a single chip that's used to verify a purchase separate from a phone's operating system, often using a cryptographic key.

On Monday, Google said "Verizon asked us not to include [Google Wallet] functionality in the [Galaxy Nexus] product." And after that, many reports said Verizon was blocking the app. Verizon quickly denied it was "blocking" the app and said that in order for Google Wallet to work on Verizon phones, the app "needs to be integrated into a new, secure and proprietary hardware element in our phones." Verizon's statement has since been posted on its website.

Verizon said that it's continuing to discuss the matter with Google.

Google, NXP and Verizon refused to comment on Egan's characterization of the tussle. Other analysts didn't want to cast either Google or Verizon in a bad light, noting that mobile payment technology is in its infancy and that various manufacturers and carriers are predictably going to fight to gain turf.

Apple is expected to add NFC to its upcoming iPhone 5 in the spring, and the battle over the secure element and who controls the mobile payment user will only grow, analysts said.

"NFC is a pretty big question mark at this point, as there are no universal standards in place to work across all vendors and point-of-sale products," said Jack Gold, an analyst at J.Gold Associates. "Will Apple try to impose something similar to Google Wallet to try to garner a cut of transactions? In my opinion, yes."

Gold said the market players are far from working together to help mobile payments grow. "The real question around NFC in general and mobile payments is how does the overall market come together to implement it and not have anarchy?" he said. "It's going to take some time before all this gets sorted out and the consumer feels comfortable."

Matt Hamblen covers mobile and wireless, smartphones and other handhelds, and wireless networking for Computerworld. You can follow Matt on Twitter at @matthamblen, or subscribe to Matt's RSS feed. His email address is mhamblen@computerworld.com.

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