Be prepared -- Google is getting ready to pick your pocket. Well, not literally. The company is hoping to convince you to trade in your blasé billfold for a digital counterpart called Google Wallet.
The Wallet concept banks on a couple of spreading technologies including smartphones and near-field communication (NFC). NFC is a short-range wireless technology that lends your smartphone all sorts of new capabilities.
For instance, you can use an NFC-enabled phone to pay for things, from parking meters and pet supplies to sandwiches and much more. Visit a merchant who's equipped with an NFC checkout system, and with your NFC smartphone, complete what's called a contactless payment. Tap or wave your phone near the NFC terminal, enter your PIN (personal identification number) and you're done. You don't even need a paper receipt because the store can send an electronic copy directly to your e-mail account.
To get started, you download the Wallet app to your smartphone. Only a few phones (such as Sprint's Nexus 4G) have NFC as of this writing, but by 2014, some experts expect about half of smartphones to ship with NFC chips [source: Technorati].
Then you can set up Wallet with your credit cards, gift cards, loyalty cards and more so you'll have the option to pay with whatever source you choose. Of course, to use Wallet at all, you need to find stores that actually have the equipment to read the NFC chip in your phone.
Google anticipated this infrastructure problem. Rather than build a proprietary network of terminals, the company made Wallet compatible with MasterCard's PayPass system, which is already available at around 150,000 locations [source: Google]. Major chain stores such as Walgreen's, Subway, Macy's and many others are already on board with the Wallet concept and will soon have NFC readers.
Wallet works online, too. You can basically use the app to speed through checkout at sites all over the Web.
Quick, painless payments are only one component of Google Wallet. On the next page, you'll discover Google's ultimate plan: to totally replace your analog leather wallet (perhaps to the great relief of cows everywhere).