February 16, 2011

At the keynote address at Mobile World Congress yesterday, Google's chairman and CEO, Eric Schmidt, hinted at some of the company's plans for mobile payments.

Although he didn't address the topic in his speech and didn't detail any specific technologies the search giant is creating, in the Q&A session, Schmidt was asked to share his vision for Google's role in helping people manage their money. "We're not into banking as a bank," Schmidt replied.

"Payments, then," the questioner responded.

"Larry and Serge have suggested we should offer something called Google Bucks," Schmidt replied. "I pointed out the many regulations around that, so that's probably not going to happen. The serious answer is that there's another mega-scale opportunity in front of us. This phone [holding an Android] has an NFC chip in it. It has 80-character encryption that's very difficult to break. It can be used for electronic transactions. In Europe, credit card issuers and so forth are working on mobile payments and tap-and-pay systems. It goes something like this: you're walking down the street, you're confused like I am typically, and your phone remembers that you need new pants or some other product. It knows there's a store ahead of me, on the left and on the right. It knows one is going to offer me a 20% discount, the other a 30% discount. It shows me the two offers, and being a cheapskate I always take the biggest discount. I walk into the store, the store knows I'm coming, the pants are ready. I go, boom, and I'm out of the store. You don't think this is going to work, guys? Trust me. This is consumerism. That model or some variant of it in terms of the speed of transactions should revolutionize mobile commerce and payments."

In his speech, Schmidt also described his vision of computing in the next decade; he believes computers will help fix societal problems like global warming and terrorism. "People who love the earth can love it more" using tools like Google Earth. Better information can help prevent wars because people can understand cultural differences better. "You're never lonely, people are always around you," he said. "You're never bored, because not only is there always something to do, but we can suggest more things for you to do." Cars will drive themselves, "better than you can when you're drunk." It's a future committed to doing good, he said.

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