iOS 6 Passbook vs. Google Wallet

With Passbook, users can aggregate their loyalty cards on their iPhones.

(Credit: James Martin/CNET)

Sorry Google Wallet fans but Apple may have just pulled the mobile payment rug from under Android’s feet. In signature Apple fashion, the new iOS 6 Passbook app takes a shockingly simple approach, which is just why it’ll prove a hit.

The slick new features of Apple iOS 6 (pictures)

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Google Wallet’s Dilemma Now let’s be clear about the mobile payment situation in America. Using your phone to buy goods and services at retail is still ridiculously hard to do. Sure you can use Google Wallet to make purchases, that is if you own one of a handful of Android devices and hunt down a short list of participating vendors. That’s just not acceptable.

My recent attempts to test drive the service proved as much. Even going on a year after the solution was announced, the result was an urban odyssey fraught with glitches and snafus. While I enjoyed a few successful transactions including a sweet Pinkberry treat at treks end, I could have done without the frustrated looks from fellow shoppers, or one particularly ticked off NYC cabbie.

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Don’t get me wrong, Google has made a valiant attempt. As my colleague Maggie Reardon explains, however, the limitations of NFC (Near Field Communication) have become a serious bottleneck whether that be infrastructure deployed in stores or compatible phones.

A day in the life of a Google Wallet user (photos)

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Another and more critical challenge to Google Wallet’s mass adoption is the fight for the upper hand in this high-stakes game. For any business, controlling access to the customer isn’t merely political, it’s a way to build loyalty and entice more sales. I’d say that’s why Google’s sole financial partner is Citibank Mastercard and the retail stores signed on are few and far between.

If you’re a successful national retailer or business, you’ll want customers to use your own app, shopping service, etc. and not have someone else enroll and control your customer base. On the flip side, as a customer I’d like to use whatever payment credential or brand card I want when I shop.

A new way to pay Apple’s Passbook app isn’t out yet but from what I can tell it sidesteps the major pitfalls Google Wallet has run into, namely NFC and limited payment methods. It merely serves as a collector and repository for receipts, loyalty cards, and boarding passes from other retailers’ existing apps.

Relying on software and QR codes, Passbook also avoids the limitation of static hardware technology. It’s more flexible too in that users can add apps from vendors they trust or already have a relationship with. It’s pretty diabolical actually and I wouldn’t be surprised if Apple charges a cut to be a listed store within the Passbook application.

I do see one big potential stumbling block, that being stores equipped with the special laser scanners built to read smartphone screens. Of course if a company already has a retail app, chances are good it has invested in the necessary infrastructure. We’ll just have to see how it plays out but they way things stand, my money is on a software-centered mobile payment world rather than one tied to hardware. Apple not Google looks to have double downed on this notion too.

Related Links:

A smartphone shopper’s dilemma: Wait for the next iPhone or go Android 4.0?

Apple demos Passbook, a ticket, coupon organizer for iOS 6

What iOS 6 tells us about the next iPhone

By adding new maps and more FaceTime, iOS 6 hits major marks

Apple shows smarter Siri, new MacBooks

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